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6 North Dakota sites using Indigenous slur to be renamed

The Department of the Interior's order forms a task force consisting of representatives from various federal agencies to create a list of new potential names for the sites.

The tiny hamlet of Squaw Gap in McKenzie County
The tiny hamlet of Squaw Gap in McKenzie County is among six North Dakota sites whose names are slated to be changed after an order from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior ending the use of the racist and sexist slur.
Jimmy Emerson / Special to The Forum
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BISMARCK — Six North Dakota sites will be renamed after the U.S. Secretary of the Interior's announcement to remove the racist and sexist slur "squaw" from place names under the federal government's jurisdiction.

The announcement will affect more than 660 sites nationwide, according to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, the agency tasked with naming federal sites.

The six sites in North Dakota are in the western part of the state and include the tiny hamlet of Squaw Gap in McKenzie County near the North Dakota-Montana border, Squaw Creek Bay in Dunn County and several streams named Squaw Creek in Hettinger, McKenzie and Dunn County.

The Department of the Interior's order also forms a task force consisting of representatives from various federal agencies to create a list of new potential names for the sites. The task force will seek local input and public comment about the names.

"Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands. 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,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a November statement.

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The word "squaw" has historically been used as a racist and sexist slur referring particularly to Indigenous women, the Department of the Interior said.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has previously deemed words, such as the N-word and a pejorative term for people of Japanese decent, as derogatory and overseen their removal from federal sites.

Former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, who served from 1961 to 1969, identified the N-word as derogatory and said, "Whatever the overtones of the word were in the past, unquestionably a great many people now consider it derogatory or worse," according to the department.

"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," the department said.

The Department of the Interior order only applies to federal sites using the term, and does not affect geographic sites under state or local jurisdiction.

Before Haaland's order, several states had already passed legislation declaring the word "squaw" as derogatory, including Minnesota in 1995.

North Dakota has not passed such a law, nor has one been introduced in the last 30 years, according to the Legislative Council.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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