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North Coast public land names changed, replacing slur for Native women

The names of almost 650 geographic features in the nation, including a creek in Sonoma County, are now changed following the U.S. Department of Interior’s decision to replace the word “squaw,” a derogatory and racist slur for Indigenous women, where they referred to lands or waters in the public domain.

In Sonoma County, a stream east of Cloverdale that feeds into the Russian River was changed to “Mayacmas Creek,“ according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The name was chosen based off the nearby Mayacamas Mountains because no public or tribal recommendations were received, said Tyler Cherry, a spokesperson for the Department of the Interior. The name, spelled Mayacmas by the federal government, is believed to derive from the name of a band of Wappo people.

The slur also was removed from seven geographic features in Humboldt County, five in Mendocino County and six in Lake County. In total, of the place names that were changed, 80 were in California and 68 of those were in Northern California

The Board on Geographic Names voted earlier this month to finalize the name replacements, which were chosen based on consultation with tribal governments and recommendations, according to the department in a news release.

In Humboldt County, the Yurok Tribe asked the federal government to rename the former “Squaw Tit,” a summit in the coastal mountains, to Pkwo'-o-lo' 'ue-merkw, which means Maple Peak in the Yurok language.

They succeeded.

“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,” said Joseph L. James, the chairman of the Yurok Tribe in a news release.

A map of the sites’ locations, old names and new names can be found at geonarrative.usgs.gov/names_taskforce/.

The word “squaw” has historically been used as a degrading ethnic, racial and sexist slur for Indigenous women.

The move comes at a time when more communities across the U.S. have been eliminating historically offensive words from businesses and place names. A prominent California example came about a year ago when Palisades Tahoe, the Truckee-area ski resort, adopted its new name.

In 2011, the State Office of Historic Preservation removed the slur and changed the name of a highly visible rock formation which juts out above the Russian River and Highway 101 about 6 miles north of the Sonoma-Mendocino County line.

The name was changed to Frog Woman Rock to honor a Pomo lore about a spirit with an attractive woman’s face and the body of a frog who eats unsuspecting men and is married to the trickster coyote.

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8511 or alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @alana_minkler.

Alana Minkler

Breaking news & general assignment reporter, The Press Democrat

The world is filled with stories that inspire compassion, wonder, laughs and even tears. As a Press Democrat reporter covering breaking news, tribes and youth, it’s my goal to give others a voice to share these stories.

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