Bill advances clarifying process for changing place names derogatory to Native Americans

Correction: In the audio version of this story, the producer says the committee hearing took place on Tuesday. The hearing was on Wednesday, February 4th. 

The Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee voted unanimously to pass a bill that would create a process for the state Division of Indian Affairs to change the names of geographic sites in Utah whose current names are related to Native Americans.

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored Senate Bill 10, which creates an application template the Utah Committee on Geographic Names would use when submitting a name change request to the United States Board of Geographic Names. Several people spoke in support of the bill during public testimony at a committee hearing on Wednesday. Shayna Snyder is a member of the Repeak Committee, which seeks to change the names of geographic sites that refer to Native Americans using derogatory language. Snyder says it’s imperative to allow Native Americans to have more input in the process.

“I believe the senate bill on geographic name changes will help better community efforts, like the one I am associated with, to better understand the name change process and help facilitate the changes of many offensively named sites. This is a way to ensure that tribal nations that are connected to such geographic locations have consultation and a voice through this outlined and simplified process,” she said.

Currently, there are over 50 locations in Utah that use the derogatory term “squaw,” which Snyder said is associated with the word “prostitute” and was originally used to demean Native American women. Ed Naranjo, who also spoke in support of the bill, says there is no good reason why so many landmarks should still continue to use the term many find offensive.

“It’s very heartbreaking when my daughter asked me one time when she was growing up, ‘why do people call me squaw?’ It was very difficult to answer her. And now, I’m also hearing that from my granddaughter. And, that shouldn’t be happening,” he said.

The bill passed out of committee on Wednesday and is now heading to the Senate body for its initial floor vote.

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