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Interior Dept. orders changes to 650 place Names to remove indigenous slurs

A brilliant sunset as seen from Kweeyahgut Peak.
Wikimedia Commons
A mountain peak near Provo is now Kweeyahgut Peak, one of 50 sites in Utah being renamed by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The U.S. Interior Department has ordered name changes for nearly 650 sites on federal lands, in Utah and across the country, containing words considered sexist or racial slurs.

An agency task force conferred with dozens of federal agencies, 70 tribal governments, and took more than 1,000 public recommendations in developing the list.

Brad Parry, council member of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation and consultant for the Natural History Museum at the University of Utah, said for Native women, the change is long overdue.

"I think Native Americans see words like 'squaw,' 'papoose,' and 'buck' and some of those things as dehumanizing," Parry explained. "To take and say that a 'squaw' is a pan-ethnic term for all Indian women has been highly offensive to a lot of us."

The report found 50 sites within Utah with insulting names, including a spring near Provo which has been a traditional gathering place for the Shoshone. While the order only applies to federal properties, several states have recently passed or are considering legislation with similar goals.

In 2021, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, ordered a review of geographical names of mountains, canyons, waterways and other features with the pejorative term "squaw" in their names.

Parry said Haaland's move is rooted in a 2003 controversy to rename Arizona's Squaw Peak to honor Native American and Iraq War casualty Lori Ann Piestewa.

"I think Secretary Haaland always had that in the back of her mind," Parry remarked. "And was able to get into a position where one at a time wasn't going to help. But doing them all at once, you're able to take one swipe and get everything changed."

Parry believes the order will go a long way toward changing attitudes.

"Removing that is assisting history," Parry contended. "These people weren't savages, they weren't dehumanized. You know, some of those things happened. But now, we can move forward and just say, 'Hey, our women are women, and they're equal, and they're important.' They don't have to go by a derogatory term."

Emily Colby is majoring in Political Science at Utah State University. She grew up listening to NPR in the car with her mom, but had no radio experience before coming to UPR. Since joining the Access Utah team, she has fallen in love with public radio. In addition to Access Utah, Emily manages UPR's website, hosts weekend afternoon programming, and produces the Utah Women & Leadership Podcast.