The West is riddled with place names that are offensive to Native Americans. There is Squaw Peak, Squaw Valley and hundreds of others scattered about the landscape. At the request of Arizona tribes the Forest Service is taking on the task of changing place names that contain the word “squaw” on Forest Service lands in that state. This is not an easy task.
Geographic place names are designated and changed by the US Board of Geographic Names through a strict process that is initiated by those living in the area. The Board does not choose the name; they simply verify that the name they assign for official maps and records is supported locally. In the case of the “squaw” named features the Board is authorizing tribes within a certain radius of each feature to choose a new name. (If they fail to reach agreement on new names, the old “squaw” names will remain.)
Enter the mediator. I will be gathering interested tribes together in coming months to take on the job of renaming geographical places. Of course, these tribes already have their own names, probably in their own languages, for these places. The names may refer to some specific characteristic, like color, shape, size, vegetation, etc. Or the names may commemorate an event, from legend or history, where something significant happened. Or, they may honor a fallen hero, a mythical figure, a great leader, etc. (more…)