New law will remove the word ‘squaw’ from California place names
Statewide, new legislation passed by the California Assembly Thursday would erase “squaw” from California’s place names and adopt more neutral words.
The measure, Assembly Bill 1234, by Assemblyman Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco, would replace “squaw” with “Alaskan native” in a handful of local place names with Indigenous American origins, including Siskiyou, Kern County and Sacramento County.
“I have no problem with removing words. This is a change that is long overdue,” Leno said in an interview. “You can take words out, but if you keep them, it doesn’t mean much.”
But the Assembly bill makes no mention of placing “squaw” in the state’s flag or on the California seal. Leno and other Assembly backers argued that doing so would make it harder for future generations to differentiate between Indigenous peoples and other ethnic groups on the state’s official documents.
“You’re not going to have a sense that we are a state of Indigenous people if we keep the word ‘squaw,’ ” Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, a Democrat from Sacramento, said during floor debate, according to the Associated Press.
California Historical Society officials, however, have questioned the appropriateness of the bill, saying the state should not use the word “squaw” in place names when there is no “true Native American culture” in the state.
“There is no Native American culture. There is no ‘true’ Native American culture,” said Mark Totten, who is secretary general of the California Historical Society. “In fact, California does not know how to get to the U.S. Department of Interior Web page,” which gives information on Native Americans.
The Assembly bill does allow for the removal of the letters “Squaw” in place names on federal land, but only “if the letters are found to be a part of a word in the native tongue.” But Totten said it’s too early to tell whether the state’s Department of the Interior will change its policies on the