Earlier this month, the United States Interior Department announced its removal of anti-Indigenous slurs from the names of more than 600 federal geographic sites as part of an order issued by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in November. The department has now also released an interactive online map of the renamed places.
The Interior Department’s order tasked the US Geological Survey (USGS) to identify natural landmarks around the country that included the racist and misogynistic s-word slur in their federal names. Over 650 places with the offensive word were identified, including canyons, reservoirs, and valleys.
The secretarial order also formed the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force to compile a list of new possible names for the identified locations.
The task force, made up of several federal representatives, relied on community feedback and local suggestions during the renaming process. During one public comment period, the department reported receiving more than 1,000 recommendations for potential new names.
“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,” Haaland said in a statement. Haaland, who is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, is the first Native American woman to lead a Cabinet agency.
“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,” Haaland added.
In recent years, there has been a slow yet strong push, spearheaded by local activists, to change federal place names featuring the dehumanizing s-word. Last year, a historic California ski resort famous for formerly hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics finally dropped its racist name in response to public outcry and longstanding criticism from the Indigenous community. The resort instead adopted a new, less offensive one — Palisades Tahoe.
Additionally, in the beginning of 2022, Indigenous activists gathered media attention for running a public campaign to change the name of their California hometown, which also featured the s-word, to Nuum Valley instead.
Hyperallergic spoke with Jennifer Touchine, who works for Hozho Life, an Arizona-based grassroots organization that works on preserving Native American language, culture, and traditions. Prior to Haaland’s order, Touchine had been working with other local activists to change the names of several Arizona peaks that had the slur in their titles.
“A lot of people don’t realize that this term is derogatory. They don’t understand where the term came from. And it’s not our generation, or the generation before — it goes back a long time ago,” Touchine explained.
She said that before Haaland’s action, the path to renaming these geographic features was lengthy and complex, often taking years with little to no results due to a convoluted name change application procedure. But in part thanks to Haaland’s own personal motivation to eviscerate the slur from these location names, this process was rapidly accelerated.
“What I looked to be a lifetime project, [Sec. Haaland] did it in less than a year. And she changed over 600 names. It’s truly amazing,” she continued.
The original peak Touchine had set on renaming has since adopted the name Isanaklesh Peak.
Going forward, the department also said the public may continue to propose federal name changes for any natural features through the typical name change process.