The Weight of a Name
In early September of 2022, over 650 geographic features across the United States received new names. The concerted effort, led by Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland and executed in Secretarial Order 3404, targeted derogatory and racist place names on federal public lands. In Wyoming, over 40 features across 16 counties received unique monikers that removed the slur against Indigenous women.
The new names are welcoming for everyone, a standard that should be inherent in our public lands and wild places. For those who argue the word isn’t offensive, the field of etymology exists to study the origins of words and changes in their meaning over time. Language is fluid and unfortunately, co-opting and weaponizing words happens all too often. In fact, this isn’t the first time the U.S. Board of Geographic Names has changed racist or derogatory geographic place names and it likely won’t be the last.
In western Wyoming, places like Fireweed Creek and Paateheya’ateka’a Naokwaide (Elk Eater Creek) now have distinguishing geographic identifiers, each with their own story. The locations that carry Shoshonean names are a direct reminder of the living history and ongoing connection between Indigenous Peoples and the landscapes they have called home for thousands of years.
For WWA, the renaming effort represents an important step in protecting our remaining public wildlands through equitable and comprehensive management. The future of these wild places depends on the relationships we forge between communities, organizations, agencies, and Indigenous Tribal nations. Let’s make them count.
To learn more, please visit the following article links:
USGS (complete list of new names): https://edits.nationalmap.gov/apps/gaz-domestic/public/all-official-sq-names
Jackson Hole News & Guide: https://www.jhnewsandguide.com/news/town_county/as-nation-removes-derogatory-name-from-public-lands-it-remains-on-local-addresses/article_4ae4d560-9197-5e0f-b9b3-bd62b5ad6ab7.html
The Wilderness Society: https://www.wilderness.org/sites/default/files/media/file/Placenamesguide.pdf