OKLAHOMA (KFOR) – Seven sites of cliffs and creeks in Oklahoma now have new names after a push from U.S. officials to get rid of a racist term toward Native Americans that was in their original names.
“Making sure that those place names represents either the people who were originally there or just something that, you know, isn’t offensive to those communities today is extremely important for all of us,” said Education Director for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tesia Zientek.
“Societal change takes a long time,” said Robert Gifford, a Native American law attorney. “There are many words that we have used historically that were considered just fine to use in the past, but, you know, as time goes on, we recognize, yeah, we can’t say that anymore.”
Zientek and Gifford both said the change is a long time coming.
With a push from the federal government, seven names of places across Oklahoma have been changed after originally containing the derogatory term ‘squaw.’
CONTEXT: KFOR is using the term in this report after guidance from the First Americans Museum to make it clear which word was being eliminated.
“So, I think that it’s not controversial to say that in our current society that word is understood as a stereotypical term for an Indigenous woman,” Zientek said.
Two places in the panhandle, two in central and western Oklahoma (now named Quapaw Creek and American Horse Creek), and another three in northeastern Oklahoma have all been changed.
“Society evolves and at some point, it does catch up, but it does take a long time,” Gifford said.
Oklahoma lawmakers passed a resolution in 2000 that was supposed to help change the names. But without laws attached, the push never really went anywhere.
Now it has, and Zientek said it should continue.
“As education director for a tribe, I really think it’s important for schools and for educators to make sure that indigenous content is included in the classroom,” Zientek said. “Including that content in our curriculum is important for creating compassionate and respectful members of society.”
About 36 states had at least one place name changed in the movement, with California leading the charge at 80 name changes.