Offending place names in Oregon have been slow to change. here’s why
On November 19, Home Secretary Deb Haaland issued orders declaring the word “squaw” derogatory and establishing a faster way to change offending place names. Oregon has had a similar rule since 2001, but more than 50 state entities still use the word.
David Lewis, a professor at Oregon State University and a consultant to the Oregon Geographic Names Board, said name changes require time for research and tribal collaboration. He is happy with the national order but cautions: “If they really want this to happen, they would offer some kind of funding that we could pay people for sometimes hours and hours and hours of work, in browsing through languages trying to find a suitable replacement. either back to the original name, or to a name that we create according to the characteristics of the site.
Haaland’s order says, “In general, committee members will serve without compensation.” Lewis said the changes need to happen and with state or federal funding they could be done in about a year.
Each location in Oregon requires an official proposal for a new name. Proposals are presented to the Name Board, which recommends them for approval, rejection or postponement. As of June 2021, Oregon had five place names with the “S” word under review. The Commission postponed or had requested a further investigation in all five cases.