Replacements for removing derogatory names on federal lands published

By: - February 25, 2022 4:00 am

Wildflowers bloom near the base of Piestewa Peak in Phoenix in 2013. The mountain was renamed in 2003. There are still 67 places on federal lands in Arizona and 13 in New Mexico that use that term. All will be renamed because of an order by the U.S. Department of Interior. (Photo by Aznaturalist | Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Department of the Interior’s Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force published a list of replacement names for the geographic features with the name “sq***,” which was officially declared a derogatory term last year by Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland.

“Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds,” Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland said in a press release. “Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue.”

There are currently 664 federal land units that contain the term, according to a database maintained by the Board on Geographic Names. In Arizona, there are 67 that are tied to various geographic features like summits, valleys, streams and reservoirs. 

Editor’s note:

There are 13 peppered throughout New Mexico, according to the Geographic Names Information System.

Sierra, Grant, Catron and Chaves Counties each have two.

Otero, Doña Ana, San Juan Sandoval and Socorro Counties each have one.

Federal land units include the National Forest System land, the National Park System, the National Wilderness Preservation System, the National Landscape Conservation System, and the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Per the secretarial order, the task force established a list of candidate geographic names to replace those declared derogatory by the order and the names will be open for public comment until April 25, according to the federal register document

“A list of five candidate names for each feature was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey,” Derogatory Names Task Force Chair Michael Tischler wrote in the federal register document. “The candidate replacement names were derived through a search of nearby named geographic features until at least five nearby names were available. The candidate replacement name will replace the derogatory modifier.” 

An example of the replacement name candidates would be, if “Castle Creek” is the closest named feature to the geographic feature “Sq*** Mesa,” then the first candidate replacement name for the feature would be “Castle Mesa,” according to the federal register document.

The candidate replacement names can be found in the federal register under “Reconciliation of Derogatory Geographic Names,” and it is currently in the tribal consultations and a public comment period. 

“Throughout this process, broad engagement with Tribes, stakeholders, and the general public will help us advance our goals of equity and inclusion,” Haaland said in a statement. 

This period allows the task forces to seek additional replacement names and feedback from tribes and the public, according to the Interior Department. The task force will prioritize these names in its review and provide a final recommendation for the Board on Geographic Names to vote on.

“Replacement names, to the extent possible, shall adhere to the Board on Geographic Names Principles, Policies, and Procedures for the Domestic Names Committee,” Tischler wrote in the federal register document. “Replacement names proposed during the public comment period that are in clear violation of an existing policy will not be considered by the Task Force.”

Before the implementation of the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force, the Interior Department stated that changes to derogatory names for geographic features were submitted as a proposal to the Board on Geographic Names, which then worked through its deliberative process. 

The Board on Geographic Names received 261 proposals to replace geographic features with sq*** in the name in the past 20 years, according to the department.

The 13-member task force includes representatives from the Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, National Park Service, Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Civil Rights, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service.

For more information on how to submit public comments on the candidate replacement names, please visit: www.federalregister.gov and search for “Reconciliation of Derogatory Geographic Names.

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Shondiin Silversmith, AZ Mirror
Shondiin Silversmith, AZ Mirror

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.

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