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The U.S. Department of Interior recently mandated name changes on all federal sites and bodies of water that contain the pejorative slur ‘Sq—’ in their names. Efforts continue on the part of Native Nations to educate other local, county, and state governments about certain municipalities on Turtle Island that still contain the slur in their names.
Government Administrative Office
The Deb Haaland-led U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) recently published a list of 650 sites across Turtle Island that have been renamed to remove the Native slur ‘sq—’ from their titles. Included on that list are 28 bodies of water in Wisconsin whose toponyms have been changed. The term has Algonquian origins meaning ‘woman’ and is a root for longer words, however the shortened term was never used by First Nations peoples. Across the centuries the truncated word has taken on sexual overtones and is now considered a pejorative due to its exclusive use in derogatory contexts. The Oneida Business Committee (OBC) has consistently lobbied for the name changes under their Broad Goals of Education, Culture and Language, and Government Roles and Responsibilities.
“Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands,” DOI Secretary Haaland said in a press release. “Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage – not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression. (These) actions will accelerate an important process to reconcile derogatory place names and mark a significant step in honoring the ancestors who have stewarded our lands since time immemorial. 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.”
Most in Indian Country are glad to finally see the name changes, but many are also disheartened by the fact that it took the DOI’s first Indigenous leader to implement the changes and do the right thing. “This has been a long time coming and it shouldn’t have to take the first female Native American Secretary of the Interior to do something that’s morally and ethically just,” Oneida Nation Vice Chairman Brandon Yellowbird Stevens said. “Hopefully all of the inhabitants of those areas are accepting of these changes and are part of the decision-making process on what to change those names to.
“These things become history and a historical context, and the education that comes along with this demonstrates that where we were 100 years ago and where we are in 2022 hasn’t changed much,” Stevens continued. “Native American communities still have to deal with all of the wrongs that are still a part of everyday, contemporary culture.”
“When this issue came to light people didn’t truly understand why that word is so offensive to our women and girls,” Oneida Nation Councilwoman Jennifer Webster said. “That word is a slang name for a woman’s body part and the more people understand that, the more they’d understand why it’s so offensive and why there’s been such a big push to address this.”
“We’re grateful DOI finally took the initiative to change the names of these sites,” Oneida Nation Councilman Kirby Metoxen said. “We’re hoping more states and agencies get on board with the non-federal locations not governed by DOI, but we’re pretty excited for our state.”
An island located on Green Bay near Door County has been renamed Keyes Island, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin has newly named Neopit Creek, Outagamie County now has Lake Jerome, Oconto County now has Marl Lake and Messenger Lake, and Marinette County welcomes Ten Creek and Makwa Lake. “I think like most Indigenous people it’s long overdue,” Oneida Nation Public Relations Director Bobbi Webster said. “It’s time to stop defining Indigenous people by centuries old terms that are not founded in culture, respect, or Native languages.”
The slur persists in the officially sanctioned names of municipalities like Sq—Grove Township, Illinois, and Sq— Township, Iowa, and other sites not under federal control. Tribal Nation’s efforts to educate these local, county, and state governments about the nature of the slur continue.
To view the complete interactive United States Geological Survey map of geographic sites across Wisconsin and Turtle Island whose names are being changed, please visit Geographic Names Information System (nationalmap.gov).