+
upworthy

native american

Identity

U.S. finally renames public sites to replace a racist term for Native American women

"Words matter, particularly in our work to ensure our nation's public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds," said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.

The Department of Interior has renamed hundreds of national geographic features that include racist language.

Names matter.

That's the message from the Department of the Interior as it works to replace the names of public lands that are outdated at best and outright offensive at worst.

In November 2021, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland—the first Native American person to serve as a cabinet secretary in U.S. history—established a task force to review the names of the nation's geographic features and replace the ones that include racist and derogatory terminology.


"Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands," Secretary Haaland said at the time. "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."

One of the terms singled out for removal was "squaw," which the department described as "an offensive ethnic, racial and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women."

It has been a year-long process to change the names of more than 650 sites with derogatory names, and the final five sites containing the offensive term for Native American women have officially been renamed as of January 13, 2023, according to NPR.

The final five sites are located in California, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas, and the names were changed in consultation with Native tribes and local communities. The five new names are as follows:

- One California site was renamed Loybas Hill, a name proposed by the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians which means "young lady"

- Another California site was renamed Yokuts Valley, translating to "people."

- At a North Dakota site, the name Homesteaders Gap was chosen to reflect local history.

- In Tennessee, a site was renamed Partridgeberry after a plant for which the community had been named previously.

- A Texas location was named Lynn Creek for a local resident named Isaac Lynn who lived on the nearby creek.

“Words matter, particularly in our work to ensure our nation’s public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds,” Secretary Haaland said in a statement. “I am grateful to the members of the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force and the Board on Geographic Names for their efforts to finalize the removal of this harmful word. Together, we are showing why representation matters and charting a path for an inclusive America.”

The renaming of sites is never without controversy, but it also isn't new. As the Department of Interior pointed out, former the N-word was identified by the Secretary of the Interior as derogatory in 1962 and a policy was developed to eliminate its use. Additionally, in 1974, the Board on Geographic Names identified a derogatory term for “Japanese” and eliminated its use as well.

Some states have outlawed certain derogatory names, and we've also seen schools and sports teams changing their names and mascots to avoid culturally and racially offensive terms and imagery in recent years. Considering the long, storied and painful relationship between the U.S. government and Native American communities, these changes at the federal level are a move in the right direction.

Names matter—but the journey toward true equality doesn't end there. As Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and Executive Director of IllumiNative, told Axios, "Changing racist names is a start, but we also need to transform how Americans see and treat Native people.”

On his way out the door, President Barack Obama is leaving America with two brand-spanking-new national monuments.

Gold Butte, Nevada. Photo by Ron Mader/Flickr.

The areas surrounding Nevada's Gold Butte and Utah's Bears Ears Buttes, which include hundreds of thousands of acres of canyons, fragile rock formations, and ancient Native American structures, are now protected by executive order.


The designations were controversial — many local politicians opposed the measure, describing the designations as federal overreach, while others, including Native American tribes, were thrilled.

"We have always looked to Bears Ears as a place of refuge, as a place where we can gather herbs and plants and as a place of sacredness," Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye told The New York Times.

Part of what sets the new monuments apart are hundreds of Native American petroglyphs — pictorial art and writing from centuries before the European colonization of the Americas — carved on rocks and written inside ancient structures within.

The newly christened Gold Butte National Monument is full of petroglyphs like this one.

Some of the pictograms were defaced with graffiti and bullet holes during rancher Cliven Bundy's standoff with federal authorities in 2014. The new designation will give additional protection for the ancient art and writing.

Newspaper Rock, which lies within Bears Ears National Monument, includes hundreds of petroglyphs like the one below — carved by Puebloan people over hundreds of years, beginning as early as two millennia years ago.

Modern Native American scholars believe the etchings include family symbols, territory markers, and religious iconography.

Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP.

The Moon House, also in Bears Ears and so named for the full and crescent moons on the interior walls of the structure, was likely built in the 13th century.

The structure contains numerous examples of Native American pictography inside, where archeologists believe as many as 30 people lived. The house is incredibly fragile, and only a few daily permits to see the building are currently issued.

Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP.

The house is located in McCloyd Canyon, a steep hike that gives way to this stunning view of the house under layers of rock.

Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP.

Mule Canyon, Utah, contains these Anasazi dwellings and granaries, known collectively as the "House on Fire."

Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP

Of course, the national monuments are also full of just-generally spectacular rock formations untouched by ancient construction, art, or writing — like this one in Gold Butte.

Jeff Sheild/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP.

Some local residents remain, understandably, concerned that monument designations will close down possibilities for recreation and development in the areas. But the importance of preserving these American Indian treasures, and the land they occupy, is impossible to overstate.

Ensuring that art, writing, and buildings are around for future generations is critical to building a United States of America that owns the full breadth of its history.

Thanks to our Native American forebears, these lands contain a key component of that story. And thanks to Obama, they now belong to all of us, together.

Unfortunately, photos can only show so much.

So ... who's up for a hike?

Most Shared

This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Where does cultural inspiration end and cultural appropriation begin?

In 2003, a teenage boy accused his manager at a Dollar General store of sexually assaulting him at work.

The boy, who is known as John Doe to protect his identity, is a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

After the U.S. attorney's office declined to press charges against Dollar General, John Doe and his family ended up suing Dollar General, as the Indian Country Today Media Network reports.


On Dec. 7, 2015, the case landed before the Supreme Court.

John Doe's supporters holding signs outside the Supreme Court. Photo by Rebecca Nagle/Force: Upsetting Rape Culture. Used with permission.

It's no secret the United States has a rather unjust legacy when it comes to Native Americans.

And, lest we think it's a legacy left in the past, John Doe's case of Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, heard by the Supreme Court today, is a reminder that it continues in the present.

Dollar General has argued that Native American tribes do not have civil jurisdiction over an outside corporation doing business on tribal land. Basically, this means that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Dollar General, outside businesses may be able to commit other crimes on tribal land without fear of a lawsuit.

Protesters holding a sign supporting John Doe outside the Supreme Court. Photo by Rebecca Nagle/Force: Upsetting Rape Culture. Used with permission.

For the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the SCOTUS ruling could undermine its ability to protect tribe members.

“For the United States Supreme Court to say, 'You know what? ... Your tribal lands don't matter. Your laws don't matter. You can't protect your people on your tribal land.' It's devastating," said Cherrah Giles, Cabinet Secretary of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Sexual assault happens to native women at higher rates than any other racial group in the United States. According to the National Congress of American Indians, native women are at least two times as likely to be sexually assaulted or raped compared with all other races.

The Maynard Media Center on Structural Inequality discusses how such high rates show just how underserved native women are when it comes to sexual and domestic violence and how underreported these crimes are. The same is likely even more true for native men.

In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe that tribal courts did not have the authority to criminally prosecute non-Native Americans through tribal courts. The 1978 ruling has contributed to a culture of impunity of non-Native Americans who perpetrate violence against native women.

Supporters gathered outside the Supreme Court in December 2015 to show solidarity with John Doe and his tribe.

“When survivors have little to no access to justice, then sexual violence goes through the roof. And that's what's happening in Indian country," Rebecca Nagle, from the organization Force: Upsetting Rape Culture, told Upworthy.

As a result, 86% of Native American victims of sexual violence report their perpetrators as non-Native American, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

Along with other Native American tribes, Force: Upsetting Rape Culture is leading much of the activist effort supporting John Doe's case. The group demonstrated in front of the Supreme Court the morning the case was heard with The Monument Quilt, a project similar to the AIDS quilt, that spans the entire United States. Rape and abuse survivors and allies of any gender can contribute squares to the quilt.



The monument quilt stops in Baltimore in August 2014. Photo by Rebecca Eisenberg/Upworthy.

Giles and 75 other people added squares to the quilt in advance of the protest, she told Upworthy over the phone.

“It's healing. It's very cathartic to put it down there and say my story's being told and being carried along with all these other stories and all these other supporters of people who say, 'You know what? You're not alone, and we're here to support you,'" Giles said.

Monument Quilt squares from the Dollar General Supreme Court protest. Photo by Rebecca Nagle/Force: Upsetting Rape Culture. Used with permission.

"People need to know about [this case] and express outrage," Nagle said about the little media coverage that John Doe's case has gotten.

The fate of the country's Native American reservations is currently in the hands of Supreme Court, yet Nagle and Giles think the public at large can help.

Giles implores people to boycott Dollar General: "Don't give them the opportunity to continue to stay in business, basically paying for a perpetrator, for a child molester, to be protected by a big corporation."



Those wishing to express their support cand o so under the #shameondollargeneral hashtag on Twitter. Force: Upsetting Rape Culture has a guide on how to do that.