Racist term removed from places on federal lands, including 32 in Michigan

By: and - September 16, 2022 3:44 am

Nearly 650 geographic features on federal land were officially renamed on Sept. 8, 2022, the final step in removing a derogatory and sexist slur from federal lands. | U.S Geological Survey

Thirty-two lakes, streams and other federal geographic areas in Michigan have been formally renamed, after the U.S. Department of the Interior last week released new names for 643 locations across the United States.

The name change is the final step in the historic effort launched nearly a year ago by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland after she declared “sq—” a derogatory term because of its historical use as an offensive ethnic, racial and sexist slur for Indigenous women.

“I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming,” said Haaland, the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet. “That starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have graced federal locations for far too long.”

In Michigan, 32 geographic locations were renamed, including 13 lakes, 11 streams, two canals, two islands, a bay, a beach, a cape and a reservoir. Thirteen of the places are located in the Upper Peninsula.

The name changes come after a lengthy process carried out by the Board on Geographic Names and the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force, which was established via secretarial order last winter and included tribal and federal representatives.

Since 1947, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior has had joint authority with the Board on Geographic Names and has final approval or review of the board’s actions.

List of U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved official “sq—” replacement names in Michigan

Many of the new names in Michigan are in Anishinaabemowin, the language of the Anishinaabe people rooted in the Great Lakes region. They include Aanikegamaa Lake in Genesee County, Mino-kwe Point in Delta County, Nookomis Lake in Alger County and a lake now called Ski-kwe Zaag’igan in Marquette County.

“I am grateful to the members of the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force and the Board on Geographic Names for their efforts to prioritize this important work,” Haaland said. “Together, we are showing why representation matters and charting a path for an inclusive America.”

The Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force received more than 1,000 recommendations for name changes during the public comment period, according to the Department of Interior. The task force worked with nearly 70 tribal governments in nation-to-nation consultations, which resulted in several hundred more recommendations. 

After the public comment and tribal consultation periods closed on April 25, the task force reviewed all the information and developed a list of final recommendations, which it submitted to the Board on Geographic Names on July 22.

The board then approved the names during a meeting on Sept. 8. Once the names were decided upon by the board, they are immediately official for federal use, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

A version of this story first ran in the Advance’s sister outlet, the Arizona Mirror.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.

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