The Yurok Tribal Council is petitioning the federal government to revise the exceedingly inflammatory name of a mountain peak within Yurok ancestral territory.
Located in the coastal mountains, the peak is currently called Sq---Tit. The Tribe is asking the U.S. Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force to amend the name to pkwo'-o-lo' 'ue-merkw (Maple Peak). In November of 2021, US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland created a formal procedure to review and replace disparaging names of geographic features. The Secretary also ordered the Board on Geographic Names to remove the word Sq--- from the federal lexicon.
“This term is extremely offensive to every Native American in the US and it needs to be changed. Our people deserve to live in a world without racist place names,” said Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “I think the federal government will approve our request to change the name to pkwo'-o-lo' 'ue-merkw. On behalf of the Yurok Tribe, I would like to thank Secretary Deb Haaland for establishing a path to remove hateful place names from the landscape and correct these longstanding injustices.”
On April 19, the Yurok Tribal Council passed a formal resolution regarding the peak name. “The “sq---” word is a derogatory slur that has been used against Native people and is a type of colonial violence,” states the resolution.
The Tribe’s proposal to replace the peak name is part of a national movement to remove racist place titles from public spaces. Across the US, numerous tribes are currently seeking to replace repugnant designations for geographic locations with tribal descriptors. The Yurok Tribe fully supports the tribal nations that are working to correct these historic violations.
Last year, the Tribe worked with California State Parks to successfully alter the name of “Patrick’s Point State Park” to reflect the name of the Yurok village it occupies. The park is now officially designated Sue-meg State Park. The park was previously named after Patrick Beegan, a colonist who committed acts of violence against Yurok people. During the public comment session for the Tribe’s proposal to change the park name, hundreds of local residents from all sectors of the community voiced overwhelming support.
California Governor Gavin Newsom's Tribal Advisor and the California Natural Resources Agency signed on to a formal letter of support to the U.S. Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force endorsing the Tribe’s effort to replace the name Sq---Tit with the Yurok term pkwo'-o-lo' 'ue-merkw. Additionally, there is broad local support for the renaming of the peak. To formally request the name change, Yurok Chairman Joseph L. James sent a letter to the Task Force. “We believe that there is strong support for changing names that memorialize violence against Yurok people and Indian people. Changing the offensive names designated for geographic features within Yurok Ancestral Territory to the name recommended by the Yurok Tribe will provide some healing for our community and will continue the process of addressing historical wrongs,” Chairman James wrote.
To hear the pronunciation of pkwo'-o-lo' 'ue-merkw, please scan code:
*Recording courtesy of the Yurok Language Program.