Posts Tagged ‘Derogatory Names Task Force’

Growing up in California, and often driving up to the Sierra Nevada mountains around Tahoe, I came across a valley and ski resort with a very particular name. Sq— Valley. This valley is by no means the only geographic landscape feature to have been given this name. Sq— Harbor, Sq— Gap, Sq— Mountain, are all places to be found in one state or another.

And this is a problem because this term has been used as a racist and sexist slur for a very long time, particularly aimed at Native American women. It has been used primarily by Europeans to denigrate and dehumanize indigenous women for hundreds of years.

Having this term be so common really speaks to how ubiquitous racist language is on our society. It is all around us. It is in every state. It is on maps. It is in tour guides. It is in our conversations as we talk about these places.

Secretary Deb Haaland. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior.

It is so common to encounter racist language, and the term sq— in particular, that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, issued Secretary Order 3405 in November of 2021 which established the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force. This order recognized the term sq— as offensive. It instructed the Task Force to find all uses of the word on federal lands, and to recommend alternative names that would replace the term. A press release from Secretary Haaland that accompanied the order stated, in part: “Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands.”

The Task Force has just recently released their report on the use of this term. They found that this name has been applied to over 660 different features of federal land! The Task Force will be making their recommendations in September of 2022.

I am glad that this term is going to be removed from Federal lands. I am hopeful that Secretary Haaland will expand this anti-racist work to catalog and remove additional derogatory terms applied on Federal lands such as “redskin”, “negro”, “dead indian”, “jim crow”, and many more that are currently in use.

Sign bearing the new name of this famous ski resort in California. Photo: Palisades Tahoe.

In response to comments from many members of the Washoe Tribe, other individuals, and some historical digging by the resort themselves into the use of the term, the ski resort officially changed its name in 2020. The resort have had been called “Sq— Valley Alpine Meadows” is now “Palisades Tahoe.” I look forward to the valley itself getting a new name in the near future that better suits its beauty.

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