Squaw Has Finally Been Banned on Federal Lands

Squaw Has Finally Been Banned on Federal Lands

Yes, the word “squaw” is still offensive to Native Americans. It's racist and sexist, and it has to go.

Thankfully, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to assume the role, is finalizing steps to eliminate the word “squaw” from all federal lands.

Why is the word “squaw” offensive?

“Squaw,” is a derogatory reference to the female genitalia that has been used since the 1800s. The word has historically been used as a slur against indigenous women.

While indigenous women have been objectified, sexualized, and dehumanized, the discussion to change the names of various landmarks, towns and schools has been largely ignored.

In fact, over 660 federal lands still use the derogatory term.

For now, anyway. 

“Squaw” ban

A 13-member derogatory geographic names task force has concluded its review of the more than 660 geographic features that have the word, which the federal government now refers to as “sq___.”

In February 2022, the Department of the Interior launched a comment period and began reviewing replacement names for these places. The task force received more than 6,000 comments and an additional 300 comments through consultations with various tribal nations.

Haaland, a member of New Mexico's Laguna Pueblo tribe, said she was grateful for the task force's “work to ensure that racist names like sq___ no longer have a place on our federal lands.”

She said she hoped to “implement changes as soon as is reasonable.” However, that can only happen after a vote by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

What about towns with the word “squaw?”

In addition to federal lands, The Department of the Interior is also reviewing the names of several towns, including Squaw Harbour, Alaska.

Though many in Native American communities are disappointed by the progress to remove the word “squaw,” there have been some positive steps.

For instance, last year, the Squaw Valley ski resort near Lake Tahoe, California, changed its name to Palisades Tahoe.

Yet, other towns are seeing a slower pace of change. 

Squaw Valley, California

Squaw Valley (formerly Squawvalley), a census-designated place located in Fresno County, California, is one of the more high-profile towns that has long been under pressure to drop its offensive name.

On Jan. 1, 2021, the Fresno area coalition submitted a proposal to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to change the name. Unfortunately, the effort subsequently stalled and as of this writing, the offensive moniker still remains. 

Many elected leaders fail to understand, or at least learn why the term is so hurtful. 

Roman Rain Tree (Dunlap Band of Mono and Choi Numni Nation), a Fresno resident, submitted the proposal to change the name to Nuum Valley, which means “the people” in the Mono language. Rain Tree has stated that many indigenous women within the Fresno Valley community feel ignored and that their concerns are never addressed.

Rain Tree has appealed to federal officials, but Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig has ignored the requests. Unfortunately, several meetings between Rain Tree and Magsig didn’t lead to any change. According to Magsig, Rain Tree is an outsider and not part of the Fresno County community.

Furthermore, Magsig states he has researched the name and in the 120 years there has never been a complaint.

“Squaw” appears as a part of words in the Algonquian languages of northeastern North America, where it means “woman.” But over time, it became deeply offensive because of its derogatory use following the colonization of the Americas. 

By acknowledging the racial slur and changing its name, Squaw Valley can put to rest some of its dark past and start to move forward.

After all, indigenous people don't just live on the land—they are a part of it.

Last Updated on January 18, 2023 by Paul G

One Comment “Squaw Has Finally Been Banned on Federal Lands”

  • Avatar for Cheryl Anne Osten

    Cheryl Anne Osten


    During my childhood why did my part native mother called the fry bread , squaw bread. Then now I’m a adult one advised me not to use the word squaw bad for it’s insult. I had no idea what this mean. Till I red today news , wow! I didn’t know that.

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