SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – A bill has been introduced in the Utah State Legislature that would authorize the Division of Indian Affairs to help facilitate changing location names referring to American Indian terms, specifically focusing on the term ‘squaw’.
The legislation was originally introduced in the Native American Legislative Liaison Committee meeting back in October and is sponsored by Sen. Jani Iwamoto (D) and is referred to as the Place Name Amendment.
“There are 56 identified names in the state of Utah where ‘squaw’ is used,” Iwamoto said during the meeting. “The Utah Division of Indian Affairs will assist those in wanting to change the name of geographical locations that have offensive, racist names associated with them.”
One of the most notable landmarks in Utah that has the term squaw in its title is that of Squaw Peak. The peak is located up Provo Canyon and overlooks all of Utah Valley. One community group that is in support of the legislation and has also been actively seeking to change the name of the Utah County peak is the Repeak Committee.
Shaina Snyder, a member of the Repeak Committee, said during the meeting, “The word squaw may be from a tribe in the northeastern United States but it is not a word in the vocabulary in any of the tribes in this area. The tribes in our geographic area each have their own languages and dialects, none of which refer to native women as squaws. So it is quite simply not a part of the native language here in Utah.”
Snyder, who is Navajo and Southern Ute, continued to explain, “It was used to describe women who were offered as prostitutes during the mountain man rendevous and later used to describe women who worked in prostitution or outside military forts…At the time of the naming of Squaw Peak in the 1850s, the common usage of the word was negative, associated with the word prostitute or woman of ill-repute. We would be very surprised if we found individual Indians using the word squaw as a term of endearment for their female relatives today.”
According to the Repeak Committee, the term squaw is also associated with sexual violence. In 1850 during the California Gold Rush, native women were frequently abducted and raped, and therefore squaw became associated with sexual violence along with the terms tramp and whore.
Iwamoto says of the proposed legislation, “What this legislation does is give local control to the areas and municipalities who want to make these changes and we are giving them guidelines on how to do so.”
Other supporters of the proposed bill include Congressman John Curtis, Director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs Dustin Jansen, Congressman Ben McAdams, and Navajo Nation leaders. Jansen says that when Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi heard of the legislation that she ‘seemed supportive of that’.
Groups that are in support of changing geographical location names are encouraged to collaborate with local Indian tribes and to receive feedback from them concerning the proposed name changes.
Amid the proposed Place Name Amendment, Bountiful High School has been in the spotlight with increasing pressure to change their school mascot. On Monday, the decision was made to change the school’s mascot to begin the 2021/22 school year.
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