Department of the Interior Is Finally Removing a Slur From Over 650 Public Lands
In February 2022, Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Deb Haaland announced that the slur “sq__”—used primarily against Indigenous North American women—was in the process of being removed from all public lands. This means over 650 locations (encompassing roughly 38 states) will be changed to new names. A September 8, 2022 press statement, released by the DOI, stated a public comment period yielded about 1,000 name suggestions, and consultation with over 70 Tribal governments came with hundreds more.
It’s kind of bittersweet. On the one hand, this is great and long overdue. On the other hand, it’s really freaking long overdue. While the word was used in the Algonquian language (spoken by over 24 groups) to mean “woman,” since colonization, the word has been weaponized as a slur mostly against Indigenous women. The new official names are public and in the statement, Secretary Haaland wrote,
I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming. That starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have graced federal locations for far too long. I am grateful to the members of the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force and the Board on Geographic Names for their efforts to prioritize this important work. Together, we are showing why representation matters and charting a path for an inclusive America.
Another one bites the dust
Not that there needs to be legal precedence, but this comes decades after slurs against other groups have been phased out of use in public lands, and the committee appears to have meticulously taken every step towards working with each community and making sure this will remain respectful. This push to change the name of taxpayer-funded public spaces, and even larger businesses, seems to finally be getting some results. For example, after decades of pressure, large pro-league sports teams have shifted in name and logos. Cleveland’s baseball team became the Guardians, and Washington’s football team became the Commanders.
For those who can, at bare minimum, acknowledge outright slurs, the failure to act often boils down to “it’s tradition” ( or “cultural heritage” as if that is a stagnant idea) or “we have bigger fish to fry.” The first point is irrelevant, and the latter ignores that we can do both. This was one large committee and is one of many reconciliation efforts led by the DOI. Hopefully, this change will encourage more people of color (specifically Indigenous kids) to feel welcomed in these parks.
(featured image: Sarah Silbiger-Pool/Getty Images)
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