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State Board Frustrated That Wyoming Has No Say In Renaming Any Location With Word “Squaw” In It

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

Members of the state group that makes recommendations on the naming of geographic features in Wyoming are expressing frustration over federal plans to eliminate the word “squaw” from locations across the country.

Members of the Wyoming Board of Geographic names, during their meeting Wednesday, said they wished they had been given a chance to offer input on the plan of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to eliminate the word “squaw” from geologic feature names across the country.

The board also used its meeting Tuesday to vote against a proposal to name a Cody mountain after artist Jackson Pollock.

The discussion about the word “squaw” stems from a “secretarial order” issued in November by Haaland to remove the word from the names of some 660 features nationally, including 43 in 17 Wyoming counties.

A final decision on the proposal is to be made by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names in September.

The decision will be made without input from the Wyoming Board of Geographic Names because of a special process established by Haaland, said Jennifer Runyon, a geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey and advisor to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names.

“I guess the secretary thought that was particularly OK,” she said during the meeting.

The only way for Wyoming to offer input on the proposal would have been to submit public comment and the time period for submitting comment has already ended.

Geographic naming boards from Washington and Colorado did respond through this process, Runyon said.

Of the 6,650 public comments received, Runyon said about 4,000 were in support of the idea of changing the names of features whose names currently contain the word “squaw,” which Haaland declared derogatory to Native American women.

Although no member of the Wyoming board supported the change during the Wednesday meeting, some members have done so in the past.

Board Vice Chair Jack Studley said he does not believe the term is derogatory, based on his research.

“It very clearly states it stood for female or younger woman,” he said.

Studley also speculated that if the word “squaw” is in fact offensive, the word “peninsula” could also be deemed so because of its similarity to the word for male genitalia.

Runyon mentioned that there is  pending legislation addressing the use of the word “squaw” in geographic landmarks, and Studley said the new law might pre-empt Haaland’s order. Runyon said this is possible, but added Haaland may also have the authority as head of the DOI to override any rule changes.

A special task force has been created by the Department of Interior to examine the removal of the word “squaw” from place names and official communications.

The board also voted unanimously during its meeting to oppose a suggestion to name the Cody mountain off of the Chief Joseph Highway after Pollock.

The board voted 11-0 to reject the name for the red sandstone butte on private land.

“The simple fact of birth here really doesn’t make any kind of connection at all,” Studley said. “Historical or established use should have a direct connection to a geographic feature.”

The mountain or large hill, unofficially known as “Red Hill,” “Red Butte” or “Red Cliffs,” is located on Two Dot Ranch property. The ranch’s general manager Mark McCarty told Park County Commissioner Lee Livingston that the ranch’s owner Fayez Sarofim does not support the proposal.

The Pollock suggestion was submitted by Michigan artist Gregory Constantine to the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Board of Geographic Names first before it was sent to the local level for consideration. 

In his application, Constantine referred to the butte as “my mountain” multiple times and said he had a personal connection to the peak, having created around 35 paintings of it.

Although Pollock only spent the first 10 months of his life in Cody, he was friends with and influenced famous Western artist and Cody resident Harry Jackson. Pollock did not make Western art himself and it is unknown whether he ever returned to Cody during his life.

“Jackson Pollock had no personal affinity for that peak,” board member Dan White said. “He wasn’t there. He left in 10 months. It’s a non-starter.”

The state board received 12 comments opposed to the naming, and only one supporting it, that one coming from Constantine himself.

“The reason to do it given is, ‘just because,’” said R.J. Pieper, a member of the board who is an artist himself. “The opposition from the local community is screaming loud and clear about what needs to happen.”

The board did approve a motion to encourage the Sarofim to propose a name with local ties for the mountain.

The Pollock issue is still not a done deal however. The Wyoming Board of Geographic Names will only be considered by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which meets monthly and publishes quarterly lists of new or changed names of geographic features.

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Wyoming Experts On Indian Culture Welcome Elimination Of ‘Squaw’

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

The prospect of changing landmark names in Wyoming to remove the word “squaw” is being met with sighs of relief from two Indigenous culture experts in Wyoming.

Crystal C’Bearing, with the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office, and Lynette St. Clair, with Fort Washakie schools, both told Cowboy State Daily they were glad to see the order excising the word from hundreds of landmarks across the country.  

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced in February its intent to alter about 660 landmark names – including 43 in Wyoming – incorporating the word “squaw,” pending a public comment period ending in late April.  

“Historically, the word has always been used against Indigenous women in a derogatory fashion,” said C’Bearing, deputy director of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office.  

“The word has allowed settlers to see Indigenous women as less than human,” C’Bearing told Cowboy State Daily, adding that this degradation through language, in her view, contributed to the anti-Native sentiments that manifested themselves as war and conflict between tribal members and white people.

The History of a Word 

Originally an innocuous Algonquin word for “woman,” the term “squaw” evolved from its pre-1800s tribal usage to present day English.  

“Squaw” did not appear in Noah Webster’s 1806 “Compendious Dictionary” or his 1828 “American Dictionary of the English Language.”  

Half-Mohawk, half-Canadian writer E. Pauline Johnson in her 1893 short story “A Red Girl’s Reasoning,” used the word “squaw” as a menacing insult comparable, in its context, with the English word “whore.”  

By 1956, Webster defined the term as “A female American Indian.” 

But just 10 years later, an unabridged Webster had added a second definition reflecting a layer of farce: “any woman: chiefly humorous.”  

Dictionary.com defines it currently as “a contemptuous term used to refer to a North American Indian woman, especially a wife.”  

C’Bearing said that the attitudes surrounding the word are its real context – not official definitions.  

“I don’t believe any Indigenous woman would be proud to be called by that name,” she said, calling it a “tool of oppression” that “does not honor Indigenous women, and when the word is spoken, a negative image is perceived instantly which degrades and sexualizes Indigenous women throughout history.”  

In Memory 

For Lynette St. Clair, the Indian Education Coordinator at Fort Washakie schools, the use of “squaw” still rankles. 

“(I remember) my grandmother being followed around in the stores in the early ‘60s and ‘70s, with the store clerk (saying) ‘Watch out for this squaw, she might steal something,’” St. Clair told Cowboy State Daily. 

St. Clair is an Eastern Shoshone tribal member and a resident of the Wind River Indian Reservation.  

Both she and C’Bearing recalled instances when the term was used against them in a derogatory fashion.  

“Nobody,” stated C’Bearing “can tell me to not be offended by that name when it’s still being used to degrade and offend Indigenous women today.”  

C’Bearing’s tribal heritage is Northern Arapaho and Lakota.  

Landmarks? 

“It’s time to recognize the harmful connotation associated with the name and change it to one that represents and honors the people and land features,” St. Clair said. “As Indigenous people, we recognize the lands as sacred places and ask that in the renaming process, the community connection is prioritized in giving these spaces the respect and honor the lands deserve.”  

Squaw Teats Buttes in Hot Springs County, Squaw Creek Road in Lander, and dozens of variants including the term are scattered across Wyoming’s landscape.  

But many commenters on the Cowboy State Daily Facebook page disagree with the Department of Interior’s plan.

“How ridiculous,” wrote one commenter. “Life is offensive… get over yourself! What a tortured small world some people live in.”  

Others were concerned that the DOI is spending money on the sign-changing endeavor during a period of inflation, war, and energy shortage.  

“Let’s move on to more important things like drilling for oil,” reads one comment.

It was followed by the response: “With all that is going on in the country and world we are wasting time and resources on these crazy woke agendas! We need to defund this and all the other government waste and overreach I am tired of my tax dollars being wasted!” 

Other commenters suggested that, even after the changes are made, locals still will call landmarks by their original names out of habit and tradition.  

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Feds Bypass Wyo Board Of Geographic Names In Renaming “Squaw” Sites

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Months of work by the Wyoming Board of Geographic Names to address a Park County landmark containing the word “squaw” has been bypassed by an order from the U.S. Department of Interior.

Board Executive Director Shelley Messer told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that the board received a proposal in July 2020 to rename two features in Park County, the Squaw Teats, a pair of buttes near Cody, to “Crow Woman Buttes.”

“We discussed this proposal at several meetings, including our last meeting on Nov. 17, 2021, with a commitment to take a vote and make a recommendation at our May 2022 meeting,” Messer said. “A few days after that November meeting is when the Secretarial Order was issued.”

The order in question removed the term “squaw” from about 660 locations around the country. It was issued by Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland, who declared the term derogatory.

As a result, the board’s prior work was not consulted by the department.

However, Messer said the board will be able to provide input during the public comment period on suggest name changes.

“We are certainly welcome to submit suggestions, as is any interested party,” she said.

Wyoming has 43 locations that the DOI order recommends for name changes, 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.

Messer said the DOI is initially recommending replacement names that are taken from the names of nearby geographic features.

“For example, ‘Castle Creek’ is the nearest named feature to ‘Squaw Mesa,’ Messer said. “The first candidate replacement name for the derogatory named feature would be ‘Castle Mesa.’ Proposed additional candidate names will also be accepted during the public comment period.”

The public comment period ends April 25.

The federal BGN has received 261 proposals over the past 20 years for new names for geographic features with the word squaw in their name.

There was much discussion among Park County commissioners and the Wyoming Board of Geographic Names last year over the potential renaming of “Squaw Teats.”

Commissioners Joseph Tilden, Dossie Overfield, Lee Livingston and Lloyd Thiel did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story said that the Wyoming BGN received 261 proposals. It has been corrected.

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“Squaw Teats,” 40+ Other Wyoming Locations With “Squaw” In It Will Get Renamed By Dept Of Interior

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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.

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State Board Delays Decision On ‘Squaw Teats,’ But Federal Renaming Effort Is Underway

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

A state board has again postponed a decision on whether to recommend the renaming of “Squaw Teats,” a pair of peaks in southeastern Park County. However, the Biden administration is moving forward with plans to pick a new name for that location and more than 650 other place names across the United States that contain the word “squaw.”

In an order issued Nov. 19, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland declared the word to be a derogatory term that should be removed from federal usage.

“Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands,” Haaland said in a statement. “Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage — not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression.”

The secretary wants new names in place by the early fall of 2022, following months of input from the public and tribal governments. Haaland said her actions would “accelerate an important process to reconcile derogatory place names and mark a significant step in honoring the ancestors who have stewarded our lands since time immemorial.”

The move is not unprecedented, as the federal government previously banned the N-word from all place names in 1963 and an offensive abbreviation of the word Japanese in 1974.

“The time has come to recognize that the term ‘squaw’ is no less derogatory than others which have been identified and should also be erased from the National landscape and forever replaced,” Haaland’s secretarial order says.

Concern has been raised about the word for decades; the department noted that the states of Montana, Oregon, Maine and Minnesota have already banned the word from their geographic features.

Local Debate

Wyoming has also been debating what to do with the term. Over the past year and a half, the Wyoming Board on Geographic Names has been considering whether to recommend changing the name of Squaw Teats, located about 15 miles east of Meeteetse on Bureau of Land Management property. Powell resident Tyler Kerr brought the name to the board’s attention in June 2020, saying the current moniker is “racially charged (and arguably misogynistic).” He suggested a new name of Crow Woman Buttes.

At a meeting in May, the Wyoming board heard from state Rep. Andi LaBeau, D-Ethete (formerly known as Andi Clifford), and her sister, Crystal C’Bearing of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office. They both agreed Squaw Teats should be renamed and LaBeau said she planned to introduce legislation to eventually erase the word squaw from Wyoming maps.

The board didn’t make a recommendation on the proposed name change in May. Members requested more information from LaBeau and C’Bearing about the history of the word — as there are differing opinions about its origins — and indicated they hoped to hear the thoughts of tribal governments and the BLM. However, when the board convened for its next meeting this month, it had received none of that information or recommendations.

“I don’t have a lot of updates,” Executive Director Shelley Messer told the board.

After a brief debate, the advisory panel voted 6-5 to again table its recommendation until May 2022. In opposing a delay, member RJ Pieper expressed concern that, “it’s just another six months and another six months that we’re dealing with this, five years down the road.”

However, board chair Herb Stoughton — who cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of tabling the proposal — said he wanted to give LaBeau and C’Bearing more time to provide input. He added that, “we’re going to make sure that, no matter what happens, … at the May meeting of 2022, we shall make a recommendation to the national board.”

Differing Opinions

LaBeau didn’t attend the meeting, but in a Nov. 22 post on her official Facebook page, the state representative voiced her support for Haaland’s order.

“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,” LaBeau wrote. “That word is offensive, period. Words matter.”

Stoughton also signalled his support for renaming Squaw Teats earlier this year, pledging to aid LaBeau’s effort to remove the word squaw from all of Wyoming’s place names; Pieper also said he supports changing the name of Squaw Teats.

However, the board was not unanimous, with Vice Chairman Jack Studley saying this month that he’ll be voting against the proposal.

Park County commissioners unanimously voted to support the current name in August 2020, writing that “the history and heritage of Park County is important and must remain the same today and tomorrow.”

The state board also received a pair of emails opposing a change.

“Do not give into the cancel culture nonsense. The name Squaw Teats is not offensive,” wrote Brandon Harvey. “Do something useful with your job instead of wasting time and money on non issues.”

Bob and Linda Graff of Powell also opposed the change, with Bob Graff speaking at this month’s meeting. He suggested the board “just leave it alone” and took issue with the suggested new name of Crow Woman Buttes. Graff questioned the wisdom of singling out one tribe and “in today’s new woke culture and all … with the word woman in there now we’ve introduced a big gender pronoun so that’s surely going to offend somebody.”

“We’re kind of getting into a point where we’re starting to tear down statues of our founding fathers and all of this kind of good thing and you know, it’s history,” he said. “Let’s just leave it as history and go on about our rat killing.”

However, much of the debate appeared to become moot just two days later — when Secretary Haaland issued her order banning the use of the word squaw from federal usage. In a news release, the Department of the Interior said the word “has historically been used as an offensive ethnic, racial, and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women.”

Concerns Over Federal Process

A newly formed Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force — made up of 13 representatives from various federal agencies — will solicit input from tribal governments and the public over the coming months to recommend new names for all the places that currently contain the word squaw. The timeline laid out in the secretarial order indicates that the U.S. Board on Geographic Names will be required to rename the hundreds of locations by September 2022.

It’s a relatively short time frame — particularly when compared to how long the board has been considering a pair of proposals to rename Mount Doane and Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park.

A coalition of Native American tribes have taken issue with the landmarks’ namesakes and have proposed new names of First People’s Mountain and Buffalo Nations Valley, respectively.

The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association and the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council first suggested the changes in September 2017. But more than four years later, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has yet to make a decision, as it’s still waiting on the National Park Service to weigh in. Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said earlier this month that much of the delay has been working to ensure the Park Service has a “comprehensive engagement” with all 27 tribes associated with the park.

The Wyoming Board on Geographic Names plans to send a letter encouraging the Park Service to make a recommendation, after member Dan White expressed frustration about the delay.

“They ground this to a halt,” he said of the Park Service. White said he knows that the national board has waited on other federal agencies in the past, “but I mean this has been going on for two years — and we voted.”

In 2019, the Wyoming board recommended leaving Hayden Valley as-is, but to rename Mount Doane because of Gustavus C. Doane’s involvement in the slaughter of Native Americans. White said the national board should “just make a decision.”

U.S. Board of Geographic Names staffer Jennifer Runyon said she would relay the state board’s concern, adding that the proposed renaming of the two Yellowstone locations has “gone way up the chain.”

“All I hear is there’s a lot of turnover at park management and it’s very sensitive,” Runyon reported.

 Impartiality

As this month’s roughly 45-minute meeting came to a close, board member Calvin Williams raised concerns about Secretary Haaland, questioning how she would “remain impartial and not try to exert some influence behind the scenes.”

Messer, the board’s executive director responded that, “everybody comes to a job with their own personal bias,” and Stoughton said the national board is quite thorough and follows a standard set of processes for each proposal.

Williams said he understood that, “but my concern this time is that we have a native heading the department that could be in charge of renaming something about natives.”

Stoughton reiterated that the same process would be followed, while Messer responded that the concern “is a non-issue.”

In addition to calling for the renaming of all geographic and federal land unit names that include the word squaw, Haaland is also creating a new Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names that will look at “additional terms that may be considered derogatory” and could recommend additional name changes.

The 17-member panel will include six representatives from Indian tribes and tribal and Native Hawaiian organizations; eight civil rights, anthropology and history experts; and three members of the general public. Unlike the panel tasked with picking new names for the features containing the word squaw, the broader advisory committee was not given any deadlines for completing its work.

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