Federal agency seeks new names for lakes with derogatory word

Government seeks to rename two lakes in region that still carry Native American slur.




2 minute read

Two lakes in the St. Croix River watershed are part of a nationwide effort to remove derogatory names from official government lists. “Squaw” was deemed a derogatory term in a ruling by the Secretary of the Interior last fall, who directed her agency to review all places bearing the name and finding new options.

“Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds. Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue,” said Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American person to serve as a Cabinet secretary. “Throughout this process, broad engagement with Tribes, stakeholders and the general public will help us advance our goals of equity and inclusion.”

The U.S. Geological Survey identified a lake in St. Croix County, Wis., in the Apple River watershed, and one in Pine County, Minn., in the Snake River watershed, with the slurs still remaining in their official names. To identify alternative names, the agency simply found the nearest other named objects and suggested those.

“The candidate replacement name will replace the derogatory modifier. For example, “Castle Creek” is the nearest named feature to “Squaw Mesa”. The first candidate replacement name for the derogatory named feature would be “Castle Mesa”.

For the St. Croix River watershed lakes, the alternatives are:

  • Apple River watershed: Apple River, Riverdale Flowage, Cedar Creek, Horse Creek, Levesque Spring
  • Snake River watershed: Cross Lake, Rock Creek, Snake River, Mission Creek, Pokegama Creek

(The new names would only use the “modifier,” so options would include “Apple Lake” or “Rock Lake,” for example.)

But citizens are also invited to propose their own new names, which the agency says will be prioritized in its review and recommendation. Input is requested on the proposal by April 25. The USGS will then provide the proposed new names to the Board on Geographic Names. Click here to comment.

In the past 20 years, the government has received 261 requests to remove “sq___” from place names, and this effort is intended to address the remaining places. The recent moves are part of a history of reconsidering derogatory names. In 1962, a pejorative term for “African-Americans” was removed, and in 1974 a pejorative term for “Japanese” was eliminated.

“The time has come to recognize that the term ‘squaw’ is no less derogatory than others which have been identified and should also be erased from the National landscape and forever replaced,” Secretary Haaland wrote in her order.


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8 responses to “Federal agency seeks new names for lakes with derogatory word”

  1. Richard Avatar

    Move on to more important issues!

    1. Greg Seitz Avatar
      Greg Seitz

      It may not be important to you, but don’t confuse it as not important to other people.

      1. James L Cox Avatar
        James L Cox

        Terrific reply, Greg. Hopefully, Richard is doing a “upon further review”

  2. David Avatar

    Onondogacona is beautiful Indian name for Bone Lake. It means LAKE OF THE SMALL PINES. Bone Lake is name white settlers gave to lake after seeing human bones laying on the shoreline. Tourism dollars might flow better to Polk County if we focused on historic Indian history. Give visitors a different experience.

    1. Mark Hove Avatar
      Mark Hove

      Neat! Thanks for the history, ideas, and suggestion.

  3. Madonna Avatar

    Agree with you David, it would be enlightening for American people to learn the history and life of the aboriginal peoples from a Tribal perspective.

  4. Mark Hove Avatar
    Mark Hove

    Wonderful article, thank you for sharing this important topic! I know many people who would like to see land and water feature names that are respectful of our neighbors.

  5. Jim Cox Avatar
    Jim Cox

    A reminder: we likewise contribute further favorably by substituting, e.g., Indigenous for Indian.


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Federal agency seeks new names for lakes with derogatory word