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Federal board votes to rename geographical areas in Michigan that use derogatory word

Michigan Department of Natural Resources
This lake in a state campground in Marquette County, MI, is one of several sites in the state to be renamed.

More than 30 lakes, streams and other geographical areas in Michigan will now have new names. The change comes after the Biden Administration banned the use of a derogatory term for federal lands.

The origin of the word "sq___" can be traced back to the Algonquin language and means woman. But in the 1600s, European colonizers began to use it as an insult for Native American people.

Seth Thomas Sutton is a professor at Montcalm Community College and a descendant of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians.

"It is not a great word, it is definitely a sexually explicit, extremely crude, derogatory term," he said.

Since then, nearly 650 geographic features in the United State had included the term in their name.

Thomas Sutton says it hasn’t been easy to have to live in a country that uses the word to refer to geographic landmarks.

“Its a long time coming. I'm very very happy that they’re finally changing these things. Obviously, I don’t want to be naïve and say that things will be rosy after this but it’s a small step forward," he said.

Last week, the Department of the Interior announced the Board on Geographic Names voted on the final replacement names for the landmarks. The final vote completes the last step in the historic efforts to remove a term from federal use. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland formally established a process last November to review and replace the word from public lands.

“I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming. That starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have graced federal locations for far too long,” Haaland said in a press release. “I am grateful to the members of the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force and the Board on Geographic Names for their efforts to prioritize this important work. Together, we are showing why representation matters and charting a path for an inclusive America.”

The list of new names can be found on the U.S. Geological Survey website with a map of locations.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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