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.