‘S-word’ to disappear from Idaho’s mountains, creeks without state council input


An Idaho board that recommends place names will play no role in replacing a racial slur found on 66 Idaho mountains, creeks, valleys and other geographical features.

The Idaho Geographical Names Advisory Council typically weighs in when an unnamed location gets a name or when an existing name is changed.

But not this time, as the U.S. Department of the Interior works to rename 660 places found on federal land across the country that use the word “squaw.”

“This is kind of out of the normal process that we have,” Boisean Rick Just, who heads the council, said by phone.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland declared the S-word to be derogatory in an order issued Nov. 19. Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico and the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, issued the order to have the name scrubbed from federal features.

Those who wish to comment on the changes or to offer suggestions for renaming Squaw Butte outside Emmett or any of the other features can do so online though Monday, April 25.

With spring snow, Squaw Butte towers over Emmett. The peak will soon be known by a different name as the U.S. Department of the Interior removes the S-word from 660 geographic features in the United States.

With spring snow, Squaw Butte towers over Emmett. The peak will soon be known by a different name as the U.S. Department of the Interior removes the S-word from 660 geographic features in the United States.

After the comment period ends, The Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force will review comments from the public and Native American tribes. Within 90 days, the task force will submit proposed name changes to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The board will have 60 days to make a decision on all of the proposed names.

In February, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a list of suggested replacement names for the features. They were not necessarily creative; they were simply taken from other nearby features.

The five suggested replacement names for Squaw Butte north of Emmett come from nearby streams: Corral Creek, Jakes Creek, Haw Creek, Long Hollow Creek and Spring Creek.

Those aren’t necessarily practical, but they provide a starting point for discussion, Just said.

“They had so many to name that they looked around to other features nearby and put a name on it that sounded like it fit the area,” Just said. “I think there will be a lot of people who will take this opportunity to research the history in their area and come up with something appropriate.”

More than 660 geographical places using the name squaw on federal lands across the United States are set to be renamed in coming months following action by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Seventy-two of the buttes, creeks, meadows and other places are in Idaho.

More than 660 geographical places using the name squaw on federal lands across the United States are set to be renamed in coming months following action by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Seventy-two of the buttes, creeks, meadows and other places are in Idaho.

Emmett resident Gregory Hall suggests Wa’ipi Butte as an appropriate replacement for Squaw Butte. Wa’ipi is Shoshone for “woman,” he wrote in a Facebook post. Emmett and Squaw Butte are located on traditional Shoshone-Bannock Tribes lands.

Others denounced the change, as detailed in an Idaho Statesman story. Several people said the name was meant to honor Native Americans and that an image of a Native maiden can be seen in the butte. Others called the change “woke” politics.

“It will always be Squaw Butte for all the people who have lived here our whole lives,” Emmett resident Karla Kimball wrote on Facebook. “That is one thing that doesn’t need to change.”

Some people claimed they have family or friends who are Native Americans and who don’t have a problem with the name. That’s not the case with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, located on the Fort Hall Reservation in East Idaho.

“Removing the words squaw from all of Idaho place names needs to happen,” Randy’L Teton, public affairs manager for the tribes, wrote in an email last year to the Idaho Statesman.

The S-word originated with the Algonquin-speaking Natives of Southeastern New England. It originally meant “woman,” but became a slur used by white settlers in as early as the 1600s.

In 2007, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved removing the S-word from eight place names in North Idaho. Three were on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation, with five outside the reservation but in the tribe’s ancestral territory.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe asked for the names to be removed.

Native American names would be appropriate for those features now known by the S-word, Just said.

“The Native Americans probably had names for a lot of those features that might have gone back a lot more than the 100-150 years that these have been in existence,” he said.

Idaho saw a surge in population following the Civil War, Just said. Many of the new settlers came from Confederate states.

“They brought some of those names that they were used to and didn’t give much thought to what the Indians called anything,” he said.

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