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Racist Names Have No Place on Public Lands

Posted on Apr 21, 2022 in Conservation News, WA Wild Blog

It’s past time we begin the process of rooting out racist and offensive names on our public lands. Across the United States, thousands of lakes, mountains, trails, and other natural features contain racist, derogatory, and offensive names. These names perpetuate a legacy of harm to Indigenous communities, communities of color, women, and other marginalized communities. 

To begin addressing this issue, U.S. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland has recently identified and banned one particular anti-Indigenous derogatory term from public lands. The removal of the term sq— is an important first step toward addressing our nation’s history of colonialism and white supremacy and making public lands a welcoming, safe, and inclusive place for all to access and enjoy.

“Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds. Consideration of these replacements is a big step forward in our efforts to remove derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “Throughout this process, broad engagement with Tribes, stakeholders and the general public will help us advance our goals of equity and inclusion.”

Sq— Lake off the Cathedral Trail in the Snoqualmie Region. Photo by Jessica Wynne.

In Washington State alone, 18 sites have been identified that bear the derogatory term. The Department of Interior has applied a universal solution to their proposal of alternative names, which pulls from other nearby existing names. View a map of sites and the proposed alternative names here

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources is in support of changing the names of these sites and is working to engage with Tribes and the public to go even further than the proposed list of names to find relevant names that honor the history and culture of our unique local communities.

Washington Wild is in support of these efforts. As a historically white-led conservation organization, we recognize our responsibility to acknowledge and interrupt discriminatory practices and policies that harm and exclude historically marginalized communities due to their race, gender, ability, age, socioeconomic class, religion, or sexual orientation.

While renaming public spaces won’t undo or erase the history of harm and oppression committed by white settlers and the U.S. government, it is an important and necessary step to creating public lands that are welcome for all. The process of renaming public lands provides an opportunity to reckon with our past while envisioning future narratives that promote equity, justice, and inclusion.

Submit comments to DOI in favor of their proposal to change offensive place names by April 25, 2022.

Interested in changing a place name? Learn how to start the process in the guide to changing racist and offensive names on public lands, prepared by The National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers and The Wilderness Society.