Earlier this year, US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that the Department would be taking steps to remove a derogatory term for Native people from the location names of mountains, rivers, lakes, and other geographic sites. Haaland—the first Native American cabinet secretary—is making good on that promise.
The Department of the Interior this month announced that the 13-member Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force concluded its review of the more than 660 geographic features featuring the “s-word.” This term has historically been used as an offensive ethnic, racial and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women.
The Task Force also provided replacement name recommendations to the US Board on Geographic Names (BGN). The BGN is expected to vote on the Task Force recommendations in September, with a final list published by the BGN.
“I am grateful to the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force for their work to ensure that racist names like sq___ no longer have a place on our federal lands. I look forward to the results of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names vote and to implement changes as soon as is reasonable,” said Secretary Haaland.
Arizona has 67 locations with the “s-word” in their name—making it the third among 37 states in a list compiled by the US Geological Survey. California ranked at the top with 85 locations, followed by Idaho with 72.
In Arizona, the locations are in every county but Pima and sit on federal, state, private, and tribal lands, including 11 on the Navajo, Fort Apache, San Carlos, and Fort Mojave reservations.
“I agree with initiatives to change the names of places that include disparaging racially charged and gendered slurs,” Coconino County Supervisor Lena Fowler said in an emailed statement earlier this year. “This corrective action of removing all offensive place names is an important step in honoring the humanity of Native American people still here today.”
In 2020, the city of Pheonix voted to rename two streets—one had the “s-word,” and the other was named after Robert E. Lee, the confederate general.
The following year Sq*** Peak Drive became Piestewa Peak Drive, and Robert E. Lee Street became Desert Cactus Street.
In 2008, Piestewa Peak was renamed from Sq*** Peak after the BGN voted to change the name officially. The mountain was named in honor of Army Spc. Lori Piestewa—the first Native American woman to die in combat while serving in the U.S. Military.
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