S.D. board receives federal ‘squaw’ notice

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Pierre map locator South Dakota

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Board on Geographic Names looked at two new federal policies regarding offensive words Wednesday.

The U.S. Forest Service has declared ‘squaw’ a derogatory term in place names and started the process of removing it from federal usage.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland meanwhile has established a federal advisory committee to “solicit, review, and recommend changes to derogatory” geographic and federal land unit names.

June Hansen, who chairs the state board, said nearly all references to places in South Dakota that used ‘squaw’ have been changed.

“In South Dakota, we’re already ahead of the game there,” she said.

Hansen acknowledged that Custer County still has what’s known as Squaw Creek Road, but she said it isn’t a geographic feature.

At the initial urging of then-Governor Bill Janklow, the South Dakota Legislature passed a state law in 2001 and updated it in 2009 and 2014 declaring that geographic place names using ‘squaw’ were “offensive and insulting to all South Dakota’s people, history, and heritage.” Lawmakers directed state and local governments to change maps and other reference materials.

The state board has been otherwise prohibited since 2016 from unilaterally making other changes to geographic place names and instead must go through a public process and make recommendations to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

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