Idaho appoints council excluded from discussions on ‘squaw’ sites

An Idaho council that recommends place names will play no part in replacing a racial slur found on 66 mountains, creeks, valleys and other geographic features in Idaho.

The Idaho Geographic Names Advisory Board usually steps in when an unnamed place gets a name or when an existing name is changed.

But not this time, as the US Department of the Interior is working to rename 660 places found on federal lands across the country that use the word “squaw.”

“It’s kind of out of the normal process that we have,” Boisean Rick Just, who leads the council, said over the phone.

Home Secretary Deb Haaland said the S-word be derogatory in an order issued on November 19. Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico and the first Native American to serve as cabinet secretary, issued the order to have the name cleared from federal offices.

Those who wish to comment on changes or offer suggestions for renaming Squaw Butte outside of Emmett or any of the other features can do it online although Monday, April 25.

4503972901_87960217d7_h
With spring snow, Squaw Butte towers over Emmett. The peak will soon be known by a different name as the US Department of the Interior removes the S-word from 660 geographic features in the United States. [email protected] John Sowell

After the comment period is over, the Derogatory Geographic Names Working Group will consider comments from the public and Native American tribes. Within 90 days, the working group will submit name change proposals to the American Board of Geographic Names. The board will have 60 days to make a decision on all proposed names.

In February, the US Geological Survey released a list of suggested alternate names for the elements. They weren’t necessarily creative; they were simply taken from other elements nearby.

The five suggested alternate names for Squaw Butte north of Emmett are from nearby creeks: Corral Creek, Jakes Creek, Haw Creek, Long Hollow Creek, and Spring Creek.

These aren’t necessarily practical, but they do provide a starting point for discussion, Just said.

“They had so many names to name that they looked for other features nearby and put a name there that sounded like it was relevant to the area,” Just said. “I think there will be a lot of people who will take this opportunity to research the history of their area and find something suitable.”

Screenshot 2022-04-19 at 15.16.39 PM.jpg
More than 660 geographic locations using the squaw name on federal lands across the United States are expected to be renamed in the coming months following action by the US Department of the Interior. Seventy-two of the buttes, creeks, meadows, and other places are found in Idaho. Graphic from the US Geological Survey

Emmett resident Gregory Hall suggests Wa’ipi Butte as a suitable replacement for Squaw Butte. Wa’ipi is Shoshone for “woman”, he wrote in a Facebook post. Emmett and Squaw Butte are located on the traditional lands of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

Others spoke out against the change, as detailed in an Idaho Statesman story. Several people have said that the name was meant to honor Native Americans and that an image of a young Native girl can be seen in the mound. Others called the change a “woke” policy.

“This will always be Squaw Butte for everyone who has lived here our entire lives,” Emmett resident Karla Kimball wrote on Facebook. “That’s one thing that doesn’t need to change.”

Some people have claimed to have family or friends who are Native American and don’t have a problem with the name. This is not the case with the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, located on the Fort Hall reservation in eastern Idaho.

“The words squaw should be removed from all place names in Idaho,” Randy’L Teton, public affairs officer for the tribes, wrote in an email last year to the statesman. from Idaho.

The S-word originated with the Algonquin-speaking natives of southeastern New England. It originally meant “woman”, but has become an insult used by white settlers as from the 1600s.

In 2007, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved the removal of the S-word from eight place names in northern Idaho. Three were on the Coeur d’Alene reservation, with five off the reservation but on the tribe’s ancestral territory.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe requested that the names be removed.

Native American names would be appropriate for these features now known as the S-word, Just said.

“Native Americans probably had names for a lot of these features that could have gone back well beyond the 100 to 150 years of these features,” he said.

Idaho saw a population increase after the Civil War, Just said. Many of the new settlers came from the Confederate States.

“They brought in some of these names that they were used to and didn’t give much thought to what the Indians called anything,” he said.

Journalist John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013, covering business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon. If you enjoy seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.