By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
More than 40 Wyoming landmarks will likely have their names changed by the end of the year, as the U.S. Department of the Interior announced on Tuesday a list of candidate replacement names for more than 660 geographic features containing the word “squaw.”
“Squaw” was declared a derogatory term by Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland in November, who has pushed to replace the term with “sq—” for all official related communications.
“Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds. Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue,” Haaland said Tuesday. “Throughout this process, broad engagement with Tribes, stakeholders and the general public will help us advance our goals of equity and inclusion.”
Wyoming has 43 locations that have been suggested for renaming, including several variations of the name “Squaw Creek” found in Albany, Natrona, Fremont and Carbon counties. There are also several “Squaw Butte” variations in Wyoming.
The DOI has started consultations with American Indian tribes and launched a public comment period for the recommendation and review of proposed replacement names.
Prior to the implementation of the Haaland’s Derogatory Names Task Force that was formed last fall, changes to derogatory names for geographic features were submitted as a proposal to the Board on Geographic Names, which then worked through its deliberative process.
The BGN has received 261 proposals to replace geographic features with the word squaw in the name in the past 20 years.
Under an order issued by Haaland last fall, the task force will recommend replacements for more than 660 geographic features to the BGN in a matter of months, starting from a list of five candidate names for each individual feature. This process stands to significantly advance and accelerate the name change process across the nation.
There was much discussion among Park County commissioners and the Wyoming Board of Geographic Names last year over the potential renaming of “Squaw Teats,” a pair of buttes that are a landmark in Cody.
Rep. Andi LeBeau, D-Ethete, praised Haaland’s efforts when they began in November.
“I stand behind the removal of ‘squaw’ in any place name, doesn’t matter how many years or if it was meant in a ‘good way’ to honor Indigenous women of the past or quite frankly history in general,” she wrote at the time. “That word is offensive, period. Words matter.”
LeBeau did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Tuesday.