The United States Department of the Interior has officially removed the word “squaw” from federal use, including landmarks and national parks.
The Federal Board of Geographic Names finalized the ten-month-long process, approaching the final replacement of the word from over 600 locations across the country.
Deb Haaland: Continuously Advocating for Native American People
Deb Haaland, the Interior Department secretary and first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, is the leading force behind this monumental decision.
Haaland observes that although “squaw” is “just one word,” peoples’ “words matter.” Additionally, Haaland points out that the historical significance behind the word is more than enough to ban it from federal use.
While some may argue that the term is a casual insult, Haaland attests that the generational damage it has caused to Indigenous women “cannot be overstated.”
Historical Use of the Term “Squaw”
The term “squaw” is believed to have originated from an inoffensive word for “woman” in the Algonquian language.
However, when white settlers began colonizing the United States, they began using the word for personal purposes.
As a result, it took on a derogatory meaning. From that point on, the word was used as a slur throughout history.
In her opinion piece for the Washington Post, Haaland notes that during colonization, settlers wanted to “remove the Native Americans they viewed as a hindrance to amassing land and power.”
To achieve this sense of power and control, Haaland says Indigenous women were sexually assaulted, and white settlers used the term “squaw” “instead of calling them women.”
Haaland goes on to argue that when settlers used the term as a slur, it helped justify their unethical acts against Indigenous women; “…as if using cheap slang would make the victims somehow deserving of assault–even to this day.”
How the Federal Government Took Action
Officials in the federal government teamed up with nearly 70 tribal governments and took into account more than 1,000 public recommendations to successfully locate all the federal sites that included the term “squaw” in their branding.
The process started in November 2021 when Haaland issued a secretary’s order that determined the word was pejorative. After that, Haaland established a task force to look into the names of federal locations around the country.
Even before the federal government officially started removing the term from locations, some states took the initiative to remove the word from locations within the state.
For instance, the California governor signed a bill to remove the term from almost 100 geographic locations across the state. Additionally, some private entities effectively removed the word from their branding.
Overall, Deb Haaland’s initiative to remove the offensive word from federal locations across the country is a progressive step forward in accurately representing Native American people.