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Interior forms advisory group to remove nation’s derogatory place names

The image is a panoramic shot of mountain peaks in Yellowstone National Park. In the center of the image is the newly named First Peoples Mountain.
Jacob W. Frank
National Park Service
Yellowstone’s First Peoples Mountain (center, middle ground) was renamed earlier this year. The peak was previously named Mount Doane after Gustavus Doane, who played a prominent role in the exploration of Yellowstone. Research, however, has shown he led an attack on a Native American tribe in which at least 173 were killed.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland recently announced an advisory committee to do away with place names considered derogatory and offensive toward Indigenous people.

The goal of the Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names, comprised of 17 members who largely represent tribes and tribal organizations, is to help identify and recommend changes to derogatory terms still in use for places throughout the U.S., including geographic features like rivers, lakes and mountains.

“Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage — not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression,” Haaland said.

A key part of the process is talking early and often with tribes and the Native Hawaiian community, according to Christine Johnson, one of a few committee members representing the Mountain West. She’s a professor in the anthropology and geography departments at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“People need to be heard and names that reflect times in history that are painful for people need to be considered because people shouldn't be forced to experience a dark part of history on a daily basis,” Johnson said.

She says the federal advisory group will also engage with state and local governments. In addition, committee meetings, which haven’t been scheduled yet, will be open to the public.

A separate federal task force was created last year to remove the term sq_ _ _, a racist and sexist slur against Native American women. In late July, the Interior Department announced the group had concluded its review of more than 660 instances of the term in use within federal lands. More than 300 are in the Mountain West. Candidate replacement names were recommended to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which is expected to vote on the names in September.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist who joined KUNR as a reporter in November 2021.
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