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Department of Interior removes slur from hundreds of natural landscapes, 41 in Wyoming

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Department of the Interior image of a buffalo.

The Department of Interior’s Derogatory Geographic Names Taskforce has voted to remove a slur from 650 geographic locations around the United States. Sq*** is a word that is a slur for an Indigenous woman.

In Wyoming, there were 41 locations with the slur in the name. That included 14 creeks that had the same name.

It’s an issue Department of Interior’s Secretary Deb Haaland, of Laguna Pueblo, has been working on since taking office last year.

This affects hundreds of natural landscapes across the United States and around 70 tribal nations submitted suggestions for name changes. Many of which were granted.

Crystal C’Bearing is with the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office on the Wind River Reservation. Her office deals with protecting cultural landmarks on and off tribal lands. She said it's about time.

“It was a name that totally degraded women and dehumanized our Native women and just made them seem less than. And so that particular word, it was always used in a derogatory manner towards Native women and it's still used today,” she said.

But C’Bearing does expect some pushback from unconvinced community members. She said this is a good start but there are other name changing projects involving landscapes who might have offensive names.

Currently, she's working with the state of Colorado to change the name of Mount Evans, a mountain named after a territorial governor who oversaw the Sand Creek Massacre. She said changing the names of these places makes the land more hospitable for Indigenous peoples.

“One way we can move forward is to change that name and to make it a welcoming place for everybody,” she said.

Recently, Yellowstone National Park changed Mount Doan to First Peoples Mountain after historical research revealed Gustavus Doane bragged about the massacre of 173 Piegan Blackfeet. This was a year before the park opened.

Questions still exist involving certain places with incorrect or inconsistent spelling of Native languages, what name to use when two tribes suggest different names, and features that span multiple jurisdictions.

The Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force under the Department of Interior is looking into those questions.

One location southeast of Casper is under additional review due to the place being an “unincorporated populated place”. A location with a population but no municipal scaffolding.

Here is the link to a list of all the current name changes.

Taylar Dawn Stagner is a central Wyoming rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has degrees in American Studies, a discipline that interrogates the history and culture of America. She was a Native American Journalist Association Fellow in 2019, and won an Edward R. Murrow Award for her Modern West podcast episode about drag queens in rural spaces in 2021. Stagner is Arapaho and Shoshone.
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