WASHINGTON (Michigan News Source) – The word “squaw” is so offensive to President Biden’s U.S. Department of Interior and their Board on Geographical Names (BGN) and the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force that they don’t even use the word on any of their press releases about removing the word from 643 locations across the United States.
They refer to the word as “sq–“ and that abbreviation is repeated by most media outlets.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland established the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force last winter and included representatives from almost 70 Tribal governments as well as federal representatives from the Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, National Park Service, Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Civil Rights, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the U.S. Geological Survey and the Dept. of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service.
Haaland declared “squaw” as a derogatory term that has “historically been used as an offensive ethnic, racial and sexist slur for Indigenous women.”
In an effort to chart a “path for an inclusive America,” she issued Order #3403 – Joint Secretarial Order on Fulfilling the Trust Responsibility to Indian Tribes in the Stewardship of Federal Lands and Water.
Haaland says that she felt a “deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming” and noted that throughout the process, broad engagement with Tribes, stakeholders and the general public helped them advance their goals of equity and inclusion.
To that end, the BGN has approved replacement names for all official features that include the word
“squaw” in their names and it’s effective immediately. Thirty-two of those geographic locations that had their names changed are located in Michigan. They include 13 lakes, two canals, 11 streams, a bay, a beach, two islands, one cape and a reservoir. 13 of them were in the Upper Peninsula.
The counties affected by these changes include: Alger, Allegan, Alpena, Barry, Calhoun, Charlevoix, Delta, Dickinson, Genesee, Ingham, Iron, Isabella, Kalkaska, Kent, Lake, Lapeer, Marquette, Oakland and Saginaw.
Some of the names are difficult to pronounce as they are in Anishinaabemowin, the language of the
Anishinaabe people rooted in the Great Lakes region. One such example is Ski-kwe zaag’igan in Marquette County, a lake that was formerly known as “Squaw Lake.”
The old “squaw” names have been officially removed from federal use by the BGN which was created in 1890 to maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the federal government. In the beginning of its existence, the BGN was tasked to address complex issues of domestic geographic feature names during the surge of exploration, mining, and settlement of western territories after the American Civil War.
There were inconsistencies and contradictions among many names, spellings, and applications and that became a serious problem to surveyors, map makers, and scientists who required uniform, nonconflicting geographic nomenclature. The BGN and was given the authority to resolve unsettled geographic names questions and decisions of the BGN were accepted as binding by all departments and agencies of the Federal Government.
Michigan News Source reached out to the Dept. of the Interior to get an estimate of the cost of replacing signs, printed literature, future maps and other expenses due to the name changes but they did not respond by press time.