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Understanding Indigenous Culture in North Dakota Series: Derogatory Name Changes

"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," U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. In November of 2021, Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna who is the first Indigenous person to hold a cabinet-level position in a U.S. presidential administration, signed Secretarial Order 3405 that declares “squ--” a derogatory term against Indigenous women and implemented a process for replacing the names of places with that term across the country. The term originated in the Algonquin language and may have once simply meant "woman." But over time, the word morphed into a misogynist and racist term to disparage Indigenous women, experts say.

Derogatory names have previously been identified by the Secretary of the Interior or the Board on Geographic Names and have been comprehensively replaced. In 1962, Secretary Stewart Udall identified the N-word as derogatory, and directed that the BGN develop a policy to eliminate its use. In 1974, the Board on Geographic Names identified a pejorative term for “Japanese” as derogatory and eliminated its use.

In September 2022, the renaming of almost 650 mountains, rivers, lakes, streams and other landmarks on federal lands occurred. There is also legislation pending in both chambers of Congress to address derogatory names on geographic features on public land units.

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

Red Basket, Dr. Kathy Froelich, an MHA elder and CREA Indigenous Culture Coordinator suggests this classroom activity to educators: “We are more alike than we are different.”

Goal: Students will appreciate that names contribute to their self-identity.

· What is identity? What factors help shape who we are?

· How do our names relate to our identities?

· Were they named after someone in the family?

· Who named them?

Step 1 – Introduce the lesson by presenting the questions to the whole group.

Step 2 – Next have students think about and possibly write their responses down in a journal.

Step 3 – With a partner, share their responses.

Step 4 – The teacher will ask if anyone wanted to share what they learned about their partner's responses.

· Secretary Haaland Takes Action to Remove Derogatory Names from Federal Lands | U.S. Department of the Interior (

· Name changes proposed for North Dakota sites with Native slur; MHA Nation to engage (

· Interior Department Completes Removal of “Sq___” from Federal Use | U.S. Department of the Interior (

· Senators Markey, Warren and Congressman Al Green Introduce the Reconciliation in Place Names Act (

· Revitalizing Indigenous Connections: Celebrating Native American Heritage Month 2022 | U.S. Department of the Interior (

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