Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
There are no formal proposals to rename Squaw Peak, the prominent peak at center left, on the south side of Provo Canyon.

PROVO — While states across the nation move to sweep the word "squaw" — a term deemed derogatory by many American Indians — from state and federal maps, Utah has yet to broach the subject.

In 2008 alone, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has renamed 22 geographic features to eliminate the word "squaw" from locations throughout Arizona, Maine, Montana, South Dakota and Washington. The board's actions effectively approve revision of federal maps and documents to reflect the areas' new names.

The term squaw is considered highly offensive by many American Indians.

"That's an insult," said Ed Naranjo, vice chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation at Ibapah, of the word. "It's like cussing someone out or calling them a name."

Administrative assistant Jennifer Runyon said the board is slated to review five more name-change proposals in South Dakota at its next meeting June 12.

If the board moves to scrub the word squaw from the names of those South Dakota locations, it will be the highest number of approvals the board has given to eradicate the controversial term in recent history. The board approved 12 proposals in 2006 and 22 in 2007 to blot out the word.

But while squaw is being edited out of names of geographic sites across the

nation, there have been no formal proposals submitted to rename any of Utah's approximately 40 features that have the word in their official names, including Squaw Peak — Utah's most prominent listing, located on the south side of Provo Canyon.

Members of the Utah Committee on Geographic Names — a state organization that reviews and recommends name changes to the federal board — have heard people express a desire to brush the word squaw off the maps, executive secretary Susan Whetstone said, but no formal proposals have been submitted yet.

"It's kind of a two-sided coin," Whetstone said of the word. "Some tribes don't necessarily regard it as derogatory."

Some linguists say squaw is a corruption of a Algonquian word that merely means woman. But a competing claim asserts that squaw actually comes from the Mohawk word "ojiskwa" — a derogatory term referring to female genitalia.

Naranjo said he's surprised to hear the word squaw is connected to so many locations throughout the state, and he thinks it's time to purge it from Utah maps.

"I don't think a non-Indian person would appreciate something derogatory named after them," he said. "We need to let the tribes be aware of this and push the state to change those names."

Each location has a different story to the origins of its name. But according to John W. Van Cott, author of "Utah Place Names," Squaw Peak received its current moniker due to a tragic event.

In February 1850, a white-Indian conflict broke out at the mouth of the Provo River. Big Elk, a chief of the local Piute Indians, was killed in the struggle, and "his squaw fled with others toward the foothills to the east." During the escape, she fell from the peak and died.

Naranjo disagrees with Cott's assertion that the name is honorary. He thinks the name was originally meant to mock the Piute woman for falling off the peak.

"It would be better to go back and find out the chief's wife's name," he said.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names recently approved a measure to rename Squaw Peak in Arizona in honor of Army Pfc. Lori Piestewa, a Hopi from Tuba City, Ariz., who was killed in Iraq in 2003.

The state committee approved the measure shortly after her death, but the federal board waited five years — as mandated by their policy for naming a place in honor of someone who died — before accepting the change.

Kathryn MacKay, a professor of history at Weber State University, used to study the history and culture of the West for the American West Center at University of Utah. She said the term squaw isn't derogatory in the original language, but it has become pejorative in English, which is "reflective of our own misogynistic language."

If landmarks are renamed, MacKay said, American Indians should initiate the process. During her time with the American West Center, she noticed most attempts to remove the word squaw from landmarks are pushed by non-American Indians.

"Is this an effort to assuage some of our guilt?" she asked. "Is it an effort to rethink this? I don't know."

Whetstone said any name-change proposal would have to be submitted to the state committee, which would decide whether to recommend the change to the national board.


Utah locations with 'Squaw' names

Beaver County: Squaw Gulch, Squaw Peak, Squaw Spring

Box Elder County: Squaw Flat

Cache County: Squaw Flat

Carbon County: Squaw Fill

Duchesne County: Squaw Basin, Squaw Basin Creek, Squaw Creek, Squaw Lake and Squaw Peak

Emery County: Squaw Spring

Garfield County: Squaw Spring

Grand County: Squaw Park, Squaw Pass

Iron County: Squaw Creek, Squaw Hollow

Kane County: Squaw Bench, Squaw Creek

Morgan County: Squaw Creek

Rich County: Squaw Butte

San Juan County: Squaw Canyon, Squaw Ridge, Squaw Flat

Sanpete County: Squaw Spring

Sevier County: Squaw Hollow, Squaw Ledge

Summit County: Squaw Pass (also located partially in Duchesne County).

Uintah County: Squaw Spring, Squaw Crossing, Squaw Hill, Squaw Ridge

Utah County: Squaw Hollow, Squaw Mountain (Peak)

Wasatch County: Squaw Creek

Washington County: Squaw Canyon

Weber County: Squaw Flat


E-mail: jdana@desnews.com