New names for nearly 650 places bearing offensive word "squaw" include mundane (Echo Peak, Texas) peculiar (No Name Island, Maine) and Indigenous terms (Nammi'I Naokwaide, Idaho).
The US government has joined a ski resort and others that have quit using a racist term for a Native American woman by renaming hundreds of peaks, lakes, streams and other geographical features on federal lands in the West and elsewhere.
New names for nearly 650 places bearing the offensive word "squaw" include the mundane (Echo Peak, Texas) peculiar (No Name Island, Maine) and Indigenous terms (Nammi'I Naokwaide, Idaho) whose meaning at a glance will elude those unfamiliar with Native languages.
Nammi'I Naokwaide, located in the traditional lands of the Shoshone and Bannock tribes in southern Idaho, means "Young Sister Creek." The tribes proposed the new name.
"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," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.
Suggestions from the public
The changes announced on Thursday capped an almost yearlong process that began after Haaland, the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency, took office in 2021. Haaland is from Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico.
Haaland in November declared the term derogatory and ordered members of the Board on Geographic Names, the Interior Department panel that oversees the uniform naming of places in the US, and others to come up with alternatives.
Haaland meanwhile created a panel that will take suggestions from the public on changing other places named with derogatory terms.
Other places renamed include Colorado's Mestaa'ehehe (pronounced "mess-taw-HAY") Pass near Mestaa'ehehe Mountain about 48 kilometres west of Denver. The new name honours an influential translator, Owl Woman, who mediated between Native Americans and white traders and soldiers in what is now southern Colorado.
The Board on Geographic Names approved changing the mountain's name in December.
Offensive term for Native women
Changing place names in response to broadening opposition to racism has a long precedent.
The department ordered the renaming of places carrying a derogatory term for Black people in 1962 and those with a derogatory term for Japanese people in 1974.
The private sector in some cases has taken the lead in changing the offensive term for Native women. Last year, a California ski resort changed its name to Palisades Tahoe.
A Maine ski area also committed in 2021 to change its name, two decades after that state removed the slur from names of communities and landmarks, though it has yet to do so.
The term originated in the Algonquin language and may have once simply meant "woman." But over time, the word morphed into a misogynist and racist term to disparage Indigenous women, experts say.
California, meanwhile, has taken its own steps to remove the word from place names. In the state Legislature August passed a bill that would remove the word from more than 100 places beginning in 2025.
Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom has until the end of September to decide whether to sign the bill into law.