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Utah bill defines steps for ditching derogatory place names

'We can strive to do better'

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A legislative committee in Utah has approved legislation that seeks to streamline the federal process for changing geographic names statewide that contain language derogatory to Native Americans. 

The draft bill would allow the Utah Division of Indian Affairs to work with the state Committee on Geographic Names to create an application template for tribes and other community members to request moniker changes, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Currently, there are no clear instructions or guidelines on how to make such requests.

Bill sponsor and Democratic Sen. Jani Iwamoto said during the Native American Legislative Liaison Committee meeting Monday the bill would give local control to the areas where the committee would want to make changes and give them guidelines on how to do so.

The bill stipulates that the application must encourage a petitioner to get feedback from one or more tribal governments connected to the geographic location where the change is being requested.

The legislation comes as monuments, place names and brands considered racist or offensive have been challenged across the country, including Squaw Peak in Provo.

Diné tribe member Shaina Snyder, who is also on the Repeak Committee trying to rename the peak, told the legislative committee Monday that the word originates with a tribe in the northeastern United States but is not part of the vocabulary of any Utah tribe or Indigenous person.

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The word "squaw" is considered a derogatory term used to describe women who worked in prostitution when the peak was first named, she said. Iwamoto added there are 56 sites in Utah that contain the word.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names said name changes must have a "compelling reason," recognizing that words that appeared on maps a century or even a few decades ago may no longer be acceptable.

The board cautions, however, that "once named, a geographic feature can never be 'unnamed'" such as on maps, documents, signs and websites.

Utah Committee on Geographic Names member Arie Leeflang said the process for changing a name rests with the federal government but said the state's committee is often asked to provide its recommendations.

Tamara Borchardt-Slayton, chairwoman of the Paiute Tribe of Utah, said Monday the bill would help the state unite and "forge forward" in removing landmarks with histories considered offensive.

"Names that are classified as derogatory have no place in this current day and age in Utah," she said. "We can strive to do better."

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