Legislature To Consider Bill To Remove ‘Squaw’ From Utah Landmark Names

Dec 3, 2020, 8:16 PM | Updated: 11:29 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It’s a commonly used word on mountain peaks, valleys and roads in Utah and a new bill could remove “squaw” from those landmark names.

Ed Naranjo said the word demeans native women and that is what motivated him to start pushing for a name change.

The new bill, called the Place Name Amendments Bill, proposes eliminating “squaw” from the names of more than 50 Utah landmarks.

Ed Naranjo said the change is overdue. The idea for the bill started with a letter inspired by his daughters.

“There’s something going on that’s not right and we need to change that,” said Naranjo, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute. “It has to stop. This is a new world, a new society and everybody is trying to get along with one another.”

He wrote the letter to his state legislator, Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City.

“I basically said the word squaw was derogatory, it was insulting to native women,” Naranjo explained. “A lot of times when people get angry, you know, they’ll say that to us or they will call the males ‘Buck.’ It’s just like using the N-word.”

Iwamoto took Naranjo’s letter to heart and after a process that she said took more than a year, the legislation was produced.

The Place Name Amendments Bill proposes renaming sites like Squaw Peak in Provo, which legend says was named for the wife of a Ute chief who died after falling from a cliff at Rock Canyon around 1850.

“It would have to go through a process with the Utah Committee on Geographic Names, the state’s liaison with the United States Board on Geographic Names, which goes to Congress since many of these sites are on federal land,” Iwamoto said.

In total, Iwamoto said the bill lays the groundwork with federal and local governments to rename 56 sites in Utah, something that will take time.

“We came up with a really good process for the local government to work with Native American tribes in the area through the Utah Division of Indian Affairs. They would put together a template for what needs to be done,” Iwamoto said.

“I don’t know anything about why these mountain peaks and valleys and whatever refer to it as squaw. It’s not a word tribes in Utah use,” Naranjo said.

How the word evolved is under debate, but as early as the 1620s settlers at the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts referred to a native woman as “squa.”

“Over the years it changed. It’s considered a prostitute,” Naranjo explained. “You get that feeling that people don’t care, you know, people just don’t care about Indian women.”

Naranjo said he has his daughters and granddaughters to think about.

“Just the thought of it and someone referring to them as squaw is very upsetting to me,” he said.

According to Iwamoto, the bill received unanimous support at a meeting of the Native American Legislative Liaison Committee in October. 

Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi and Rep. John Curtis are also said to support the bill. It will be considered in the legislative session next month.

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Legislature To Consider Bill To Remove ‘Squaw’ From Utah Landmark Names