State Council delays decision on ‘squaw nipples’, but federal name change effort underway

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

A state council has again postponed a decision on whether or not to recommend the renaming of “Squaw Teats,” a pair of peaks in southeast Park County. However, the Biden administration is moving forward with plans to choose a new name for this location and over 650 other place names across the United States that contain the word “squaw.”

In an order issued Nov. 19, US Home Secretary Deb Haaland said the word was a derogatory term that should be removed from federal use.

“Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands,” Haaland said in a statement. “The lands and waters of our country should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage, not to perpetuate the legacy of oppression. “

The secretary wants new names in place by early fall 2022, after months of contributions from the public and tribal governments. Haaland said his actions “would speed up an important process to reconcile derogatory place names and mark a milestone in honoring the ancestors who have ruled our lands from time immemorial.”

The move is not without precedent, as the federal government previously banned the N word from all place names in 1963 and an offensive abbreviation of the Japanese word in 1974.

“The time has come to recognize that the term ‘squaw’ is no less pejorative than others that have been identified and should also be erased from the national landscape and replaced forever,” Haaland’s secretariat order said. .

Concern has been raised about the word for decades; the department noted that the states of Montana, Oregon, Maine and Minnesota have already banned the word from their geographic features.

Local debate

Wyoming also debated what to do with the term. Over the past year and a half, the Wyoming Board on Geographic Names has considered whether to recommend changing the name to Squaw Teats, located about 15 miles east of Meeteetse on the Bureau of Land Management property. Powell resident Tyler Kerr brought the name to the attention of the board in June 2020, saying the current nickname is “racially charged (and arguably misogynistic).” He suggested a new name of Crow Woman Buttes.

At a meeting in May, the Wyoming Board of Directors heard from State Representative Andi LaBeau, D-Ethete (formerly known as Andi Clifford) and her sister, Crystal C’Bearing of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office. They both agreed that Squaw pacifiers should be renamed, and LaBeau said she plans to introduce legislation to eventually remove the word squaw from maps of Wyoming.

The board did not make a recommendation on the proposed name change in May. Members asked LaBeau and C’Bearing for more information on the history of the word – as there are differing opinions on its origins – and said they hoped to hear the thoughts of tribal governments and the BLM. However, when the board convened for its next meeting this month, it had not received any of this information or recommendations.

“I don’t have a lot of updates,” CEO Shelley Messer told the board.

After a brief debate, the advisory committee voted 6-5 to resubmit its recommendation until May 2022. In opposing a delay, member RJ Pieper expressed concern that “this won’t makes six months and six months more that we deal with this problem. , five years later.

However, board chairman Herb Stoughton – who cast the decisive vote in favor of tabling the proposal – said he wanted to give LaBeau and C’Bearing more time to give their opinion. He added that “we will make sure that whatever happens … at the May 2022 meeting we will make a recommendation to the national council.”

Divergent opinions

LaBeau did not attend the meeting, but in a Nov. 22 post on her official Facebook page, the state representative expressed support for Haaland’s order.

“I am behind removing” squaw “from any place name, no matter how many years or if it was intended as” a good way “to honor native women of the past or quite frankly history. in general, ”LaBeau wrote. “That word is offensive, period. Words matter.

Stoughton also signaled his support for the name change of the Squaw pacifiers earlier this year, pledging to help LaBeau’s efforts to remove the word squaw from all place names in Wyoming; Pieper has also said he supports the name change to Squaw Teats.

However, the board was not unanimous, with Vice President Jack Studley saying this month he would vote against the proposal.

Park County Commissioners voted unanimously to support the current name in August 2020, writing that “the history and heritage of Park County is important and must remain the same today and into the future.”

The State Council also received a pair of emails opposing a change.

“Don’t give in to the absurdity of the cancellation culture. The name Squaw Teats is not offensive,” wrote Brandon Harvey. “Do something useful with your work instead of wasting time and money. ‘money on non-problems. “

Powell’s Bob and Linda Graff also opposed the change, with Bob Graff speaking at this month’s reunion. He suggested to the board to “leave him alone” and took issue with the suggested new name of Crow Woman Buttes. Graff questioned the wisdom of distinguishing a tribe and “in today’s new awakened culture and everything … with the word woman in there now, we’ve introduced a large gender pronoun, so that’s sure to offend someone. ‘a”.

“We’re kind of getting into a point where we’re starting to tear down the statues of our founding fathers and all that kind of good thing and you know, that’s history,” he said. “Let’s leave that in the story and continue on about our rat kill.”

However, much of the debate seemed to become moot just two days later – when Secretary Haaland issued her order banning the use of the word squaw in federal usage. In a press release, the Home Office said the word “has always been used as an offensive ethnic, racial and sexist insult, especially to indigenous women.”

Concerns about the federal process

A newly formed Derogatory Geographical Names Working Group – made up of 13 representatives from various federal agencies – will seek input from tribal governments and the public over the coming months to recommend new names for all places that currently contain the word squaw. . The timeline given in the secretariat’s order says the US Board on Geographic Names will have to rename the hundreds of locations by September 2022.

That’s a relatively short period of time, especially compared to how long the board has been considering a pair of proposals to rename Mount Doane and Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park.

A coalition of Native American tribes challenged the namesakes of the landmarks and proposed new names for First People’s Mountain and Buffalo Nations Valley, respectively.

The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association and the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council first suggested the changes in September 2017. But more than four years later, the US Board on Geographic Names has yet to make a decision because it still waiting for the National Park Service. to weigh. Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said earlier this month that much of the delay worked to ensure the parks service had “global engagement” with the 27 tribes associated with the park.

The Wyoming Board on Geographic Names plans to send a letter encouraging the Park Service to make a recommendation, after member Dan White expressed frustration with the delay.

“They blocked it,” he said of the Park Service. White said he knew the National Council had waited for other federal agencies in the past, “but I mean it’s been going on for two years – and we voted.”

In 2019, the Wyoming board recommended leaving Hayden Valley as is, but renaming Mount Doane due to Gustavus C. Doane’s involvement in the Native American massacre. White said the national council should “just make a decision.”

Jennifer Runyon, a member of the American Board of Geographical Names, said she would relay the concerns of the State Council, adding that the proposed name change for the two Yellowstone locations had “moved up the chain.”

“All I’m hearing is there’s a lot of turnover in the management of the park and it’s very sensitive,” Runyon said.


At the end of this month’s roughly 45-minute meeting, board member Calvin Williams raised concerns about Secretary Haaland, wondering how she “would remain impartial and not try. not to exert any influence behind the scenes “.

Messer, the executive director of the board, responded that “everyone comes to a job with their own personal biases” and Stoughton said the national board is pretty thorough and follows a standard set of processes for each proposal.

Williams said he understood that, “but my concern this time is that we have a native head of the department who could be tasked with renaming something on native people.”

Stoughton reiterated that the same process would be followed, while Messer replied that the concern “is not a problem”.

In addition to calling for the renaming of all geographic and federal territorial unit names that include the word squaw, Haaland is also creating a new advisory committee on reconciliation in place names that will consider “additional terms that may be considered derogatory ”and might recommend additional name changes.

The 17-member panel will include six representatives from Indian tribes and Hawaiian tribal and indigenous organizations; eight experts in civil rights, anthropology and history; and three members of the general public. Unlike the panel tasked with choosing new names for features containing the word squaw, the larger advisory committee was not given any deadline to complete its work.

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