These 50 Utah sites use a slur for Native women; here are their possible new names

The Department of Interior is taking suggestions and comments on the new names until April 25.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sq--- Mountain in Provo on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. The name of the landmark is a derogatory term for Native American women. The Department of the Interior is soliciting public comment to rename the mountain, along with other locations in Utah that bear the name.

From springs and creeks to flats and hollows, from canyons to buttes to peaks, 50 Utah geographical features on federal land use the word “squaw,” a racial slur for Native American women.

But that will soon change, after the Department of the Interior announced on Feb. 22 that all 660 features bearing the derogatory term in the United States will be renamed.

An initial slate of replacement ideas have been listed for each, derived through a search of nearby geographic features. For example, “Sq--- Peak” in Provo could be renamed “Rock Peak,” after nearby Rock Canyon.

Click on each marker in the map below to see other proposed substitutions for the word. Indian Sq--- Rock in western Utah could become Middle Canyon Rock or Toms Creek Rock, in another example.

Until April 25, the department is collecting public feedback and suggestions for alternatives to the department’s list of candidate names. You can submit comments on www.regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2022-0001″ in the search bar and including the feature identification number included in the list.

Davina Smith, a Diné organizer and tribal coordinator with the National Parks Conservation Association, said she has been working with the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, state and tribal leaders on the need to change such names.

“To give a historical context regarding the word ‘squaw’, it derived from the Algonquin language, it may have once simply meant ‘woman,’ but over generations as early as the 1600s, the word morphed into a misogynist and racist term to humiliate Indigenous women by non-Indigenous people,” Smith said. “Since then, Indigenous women such as myself have had to endure the verbal abuse and trauma … until now.”

Rupert Steele, chairman for the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute, said that the term has long been associated with Native American women, and, sometimes men, as sexual objects. Using it further dehumanizes them, he said, a contributing factor to the endemic violence known as Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.

“We want to get that name removed from those [geographic features], to protect our identity, and not to be used as a derogatory phrase, whenever there’s disagreement with the American Indians,” Steele said.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland started the process by declaring the name a derogatory term in November and ordering the Board on Geographic Names — the federal body tasked with naming geographic places — to implement procedures to remove the term from federal usage.

As outlined in Haaland’s Secretarial Order 3404, the Department of the Interior has suggested five candidate names to replace the slur in the name of each feature.

“Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds,” Haaland said in a statement.

Tribes will have “broad engagement” with the 13-member Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force, which will review the proposals for new names, Haaland said. Tribes like the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute and nonprofits such as Ute Land Trust support renaming the features by tapping Indigenous knowledge and connections with tribes who each have names for these landmarks.

Braidan Weeks, executive director for Ute Land Trust, said Haaland being in the role as secretary makes these efforts easier to talk about in the American consciousness because she is Native herself.

The mission of Ute Land Trust, established in 2018 by the Business Committee of the Ute Indian Tribe, is to help heal of deep wounds left by the injustice of the removal of Ute people from their lands in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, Weeks said.

The Utes once lived in the Utah Valley, and one common explanation for the name of Sq--- Peak centers on a Ute woman jumping off the peak. But when it comes to the story around the peak, and similar explanations at other sites, Weeks said, in those instances Native people themselves likely do not know the history behind the name.

“Working kind of between western society and Native society, you kind of start learning like, if no one in the Native community really knows that story, then it’s probably not a Native story,” he said. “It’s probably something that came up around or came up about Native people but wasn’t actually from Native people.”

The number of places that need to be changed in Utah is not surprising, he said, and renaming effort has been ongoing for many years. He recommends that the public submit comments that reinforce the need to work with the tribes and the names they recommend.

In southern Utah, the National Parks Conservation Association has identified eight uses of the slur on public lands in or near San Juan County and Bears Ears National Monument, and six uses in or near Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, both in Garfield and Kane counties.

The name is used for springs, canyons, flats, lakes, valleys, a pillar, a summit, a bench and stream in the region.

The Department of the Interior has not asked the state to suggest replacement names, said Dustin Jansen, director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs. The state has identified 56 Utah features that use the term.

Jansen worked with Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, to develop a process for renaming sites as part of SB10, which passed in the 2021 legislative session. The bill came after a nationwide reckoning on monuments, place names and brands considered racist or offensive and after Utahns worked for several years toward changing the name of the peak over Provo.

Before the new federal task force was created, requested name changes were submitted to the Board on Geographic Names. The Division of Indian Affairs has been working to facilitate that process, Jansen said, including developing templates for people and groups to send to the board.