Federal officials have approved the new name of Homesteaders Gap for what was previously Squaw Gap in far western North Dakota.
The U.S. Interior Department on Thursday announced the vote by the Board on Geographic Names for replacement names for several locations that received further review after nearly 650 geographic features were renamed in September. A task force advanced the renaming efforts for locations deemed to have offensive names due to containing the term "squaw."
“Words matter, particularly in our work to ensure our nation’s public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “I am grateful to the members of the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force and the Board on Geographic Names for their efforts to finalize the removal of this harmful word. Together, we are showing why representation matters and charting a path for an inclusive America.”
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Local residents advanced Homesteaders Gap as a replacement name last fall, citing the area's homestead heritage.
The renaming hasn't been without opposition. McKenzie County residents involved in the renaming process have acknowledged some people will still call the area Squaw Gap.
The site is little more than a community hall and an old schoolhouse.
Keene-area farmer/rancher Kathy Skarda, who grew up in Squaw Gap, has said she doesn't think the previous name was "ever meant to be derogatory toward anybody or any ethnicity."
Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation Tribal Chairman Mark Fox has welcomed the renaming efforts.
"It really causes serious and strong emotions and resistance to that term," he previously said of the slur.
The Squaw Gap name noted "a local rock formation said to resemble an Indian squaw carrying a papoose, and its location in a gap in a hill," according to "North Dakota Place Names" by Douglas A. Wick.
Squaw Gap acquired telephone service in 1971, "one of the last regions in the country" to do so, the book said.
Five other sites in North Dakota, mostly water bodies, have been renamed.
Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.