Home Secretary Haaland decides to remove offensive words from sites

More than 660 geographic features across the United States — nearly 70 in Arizona — include a word in their names considered derogatory and offensive to Indigenous peoples, and now Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is seeking to remove the word.

Last November, Haaland issued an order declaring the word derogatory term. She implemented procedures to remove it from federal use and led a newly created task force to identify uses of the word on geographic locations. The working group completed its review this month and returned the list to the secretary.

“I am grateful to the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force for their work in ensuring that racist names like sq— no longer have a place on our federal lands,” Haaland said in a written statement. “I look forward to the results of the United States Board on Geographic Names vote, and to implementing the changes as soon as it is reasonable.”

The word has been in common use for years, found not only on geographical sites, but in older Western movies, and even the 1953 Disney animated film “Peter Pan.” It has long been used as an alternative name for the Navajo Enemy Way ceremony.

But it is considered derogatory and has historically been used as an ethnic, racial and gender slur, especially for Indigenous women.

In 2003, Arizona renamed one of the most visible landmarks in the Phoenix metro area, which had used the word for years. Then-Governor. Janet Napolitano lobbied to rename the mountain Piestewa Peak, after Army Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, Hopi citizen and first woman killed in the Iraq War. The state Geographic Names Board voted 5 to 1 for the change.

There are nearly 70 other places in Arizona that use the pejorative word, with locations in Maricopa, Apache, Cochise, Coconino, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Mohave, Navajo, Santa Cruz, and Yavapai counties.

At Phoenix:Council meets to change street names with names considered offensive

The Geographical Names Committee will vote

Davina Smith, who is from Monument Valley, Utah, and works as a tribal liaison coordinator with the National Park Conservations Association, said the word needed to be changed a long time ago.

“If we look at the historical context, it goes back to the east, when this word was associated with the parts of a woman,” said Smith, who is running for the Utah state House of Representatives in the district 69. “We definitely brought Europeans to this land and made that word a derogatory word.

Piestewa Peak photographed Tuesday March 19, 2019.

In his order last year, Haaland noted that the Home Office is responsible for the stewardship and management of public lands and would ask the Geographic Names Board to replace it on the many geographic features with the word in their name.

In February, the ministry launched a public comment period to provide feedback and review recommended replacement names. The task force received more than 6,600 comments from the public, supplemented by 300 comments obtained through nation-to-nation consultations.

The working group this week provided alternative name recommendations to the US Board on Geographic Names. The board is expected to vote on the task force’s recommendations in September, when a final list will be released.

“It’s another form of healing”

Smith, who is a board member of Grand Staircase Escalante Partners and co-founder of Women of Bears Ears, said there are eight locations in San Juan County, Utah, which carry the derogatory word, including valleys, lakes, springs and even a rock. Near Grand Staircase, she found six locations and even a plant named after the pejorative word.

She has contacted the Utah Department of Indian Affairs and is awaiting next steps on what to do to get rid of the name on these sites.

“My end goal is that we can get tribes connected to these areas and come up with names that have support,” Smith said. “It’s another form of healing. We talk about earth bear ears, and I think that’s another form of healing to rename them in a positive way.

The Navajo Enemy Way Ceremony, which takes place in the summer, used the pejorative word as an alternate name, but that has changed for the most part recently. Rather than calling it by the derogatory name, as it was called for decades, people now call it Nidaa’.

“Anything that we’re starting to realize is derogatory, we need to make those changes as well,” Smith said. “I think with all these words we need to take initiative and recreate it in positive material and that’s what I try to do as much as possible.”

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Regarding Disney’s “Peter Pan”. the word lives on, although a content advisory is in place for all who watch, warning them of negative and racist portrayals. The studio said it chose to acknowledge it and learn from it rather than remove it.

Smith said when she meets non-natives who tell her “it’s just a word. You all use it,” Smith disagrees and replies, “I don’t use it. We don’t use it. You all used it.

“I think when they finally understand the context or the story of how this happened,” Smith said, “they’re like, ‘oh my God.’ people that these are the words that need to be deleted.

Along with suggestions for replacement names to the table of geographic names, the Home Office also recommended further review for seven of the 660 items. All seven locations are considered unincorporated populated places.

Noting that there are unique concerns about renaming these sites, the council will seek further consideration from local communities and stakeholders before making a final decision.

The task force is currently reviewing all seven sites for further review in Alaska, California, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

“I think if we can get at least one person to understand, then that person can relay that message and it will continue in a respectful way,” Smith said. “For me, I will continue to educate people and let them know that this is not how we are identified, this is not what we call our women. It will be huge once we have these changes in name.”

Arlyssa Becenti covers Native Affairs for the Arizona Republic and azcentral. Send ideas and tips to [email protected].

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