Feds removes derogatory Native American term from all public lands, including 65 mentions in Arizona

File photo of Piestewa Peak
File photo of Piestewa Peak(Arizona's Family)
Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 9:03 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- The U.S. Department of the Interior has officially removed any use of the derogatory Native American term “squaw” from all public lands, including 65 mentions in the state of Arizona.

“I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming. That starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have graced federal locations for far too long,” said Secretary Deb Haaland.

Since the early 1900s, settlers in the area referred to a central Phoenix mountain as “Squaw Peak,” a term that’s offensive to most modern Native Americans because of usage that demeans women, particularly Native American women. And while that became the most commonly referred to feature, its name was changed in 2003 to Piestewa Peak. That term, however, remained and up until this announcement, was part of 650 geographic features across the country.

Cronkite News previously reported that Arizona ranked third among 37 states in a list compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey to determine places with the highest number of offensive place names. Our state only trailed California, which had 85, and Idaho, which had 72. That ranking came from a push late last year when Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to run a Cabinet agency, signed an order declaring the word a derogatory term.

Historians, however, have pointed out that the term hasn’t always been considered offensive. The word comes from the Algonquian language, where it means “woman,” and she said a similar word in the Mohawk language means “vagina.” Shannon O’Loughlin, CEO and attorney for the Association on American Indian Affairs explained that “the term has been used in derogatory ways by colonizers until today, as a sexualized stereotype of a Native American woman.”

The Interior Department says they received more than 1,000 recommendations with nearly 70 Tribal governments participating in discussions.

To see the list of new list, click/tap here.

Camila Pedrosa from Cronkite News contributed to this report through prior coverage.