RENO, Nev. (KOLO) — Squaw Valley Ski Resort was established in 1949 and is known for hosting the 1960 Olympics. But in the spring of 2021, the resort changed its name to Palisades Tahoe.
Over the years the word ‘Squaw’ has been accepted as a racial slur – so much so that earlier this month the Home Office declared the word ‘Squaw’ a derogatory term and removed it. removed from federal use.
A list of over 600 geographic areas nationwide with the word “Squaw” was released with name replacement. Here in Nevada, that meant a geographic name change to 34 sites.
“Alternate names for all of these sites were created and it was a fairly quick and little-publicized turnaround,” says Christine Johnson Ph.D., professor of geography at UNR. “Officially all terms changed on September 8, this month only,” she says.
Johnson, a member of the Nevada State Board of Geographic Names, says that’s not the end.
Now, the Department of the Interior has set up a 17-member committee to review other federal sites with possibly derogatory names. Johnson was chosen as one of these committee members.
“We’re supposed to focus only on derogatory terms at this time,” she says. “Something that is intentionally hurtful, a slanderous word for most likely an ethnic group,” Johnson says.
Depending on the committee’s findings, name changes could be made to federal forests, parks, wildlife refuges, to name a few.
Johnson says the moves will be controversial to many who believe such changes will alter the story and the reasons behind the names.
“The understanding of some of the history has already been erased with the presence of modern maps and the English language on the landscape in the first place,” says Johnson. “The cartographers spoke English. Very often there was knowledge of traditional names. They just got forgotten on the cards,” she says.
The committee will be deliberative, she said. And the changes will not happen quickly.
While the National Names Committee will certainly attempt to identify derogatory geographic names on federal lands…this same committee is not responsible for name replacement.
That will be left to others with input from the public. A federal database archives geographic name variants for quick reference of old site names. Thus, someone looking for an alternative name to a site will be able to find it.
Johnson says the committee will meet in November for the first time. The task at hand, finding derogatory names nationwide on federal sites could take 2 years.
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