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Summit County creek will get a new name under federal order

28 geographic locations in the state will get new names after the U.S. Department of the Interior deems the word ‘squaw’ as derogatory

Squaw Creek is pictured off Colorado Highway 9 near Silverthorne on Wednesday, March 2. The creek is one of 28 locations in Colorado that will receive a new name per a secretarial order from the Department of the Interior.
Joel Wexler/For the Summit Daily News

Summit County will be included in a nationwide effort to rename public lands that include a derogatory name for Indigenous people.

Led by the federal task force assigned to remove derogatory names from locations, the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board is currently accepting suggestions for 28 locations across the state that use the word “squaw” in its name. That initiative includes Squaw Creek in Summit County, one of eight locations in Colorado with the same name.

The creek, which is northwest of Silverthorne along the Blue River and Highway 9, sits in Eagles Nest Wilderness in White National Forest. The area is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.



Established by Gov. Jared Polis in 2020, the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board is an advisory board within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources that works with the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, which gives final determinations for standardizing the names of geographic places. The board will give preference to replacement names submitted by Indigenous tribes.

Colorado’s renaming board has 16 members, including public officials from across the state, historians, leaders in state tourism and the executive director of the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs.



“As part of its process, the federal task force has also initiated a 90-day tribal consultation, already underway,” a statement from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources said. “The (advisory board) agrees that the term ‘squaw’ is derogatory and should be removed from geographic locations.”

According to a news release from Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland last week, there are more than 660 geographic features with the name “squaw” across the United States. The department released a list of potential replacement names for those locations last week, and there are five potential candidates for Summit County’s creek: Palmer Knob, Gore Range, Williams Fork Mountains, Target Bluff and Flat Top.

In November, Haaland issued a secretarial order formally declaring that “squaw” was considered derogatory toward Indigenous women. According to reporting from the Native Sun News Today, the history of the word can be drawn from the Algonquian word meaning “woman.” Derivations of the word could can also be traced to other women-centered words in Algonquian dialects — including “Squàsese,” meaning a young girl, and “​​Saunsquûaog,” meaning queens.

Squaw Creek is pictured off Colorado Highway 9 near Silverthorne on Wednesday, March 2. The creek is one of 28 locations in Colorado that will receive a new name per a secretarial order from the Department of the Interior.
Joel Wexler/For the Summit Daily News

However, when used by white colonists and fur trappers in the 1700s, it was often used in a vulgar way to describe Native American women as uncivilized, according to research funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

“Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands,” Haaland said in a statement. “Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage — not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression.”

Haaland is the first Native American person to serve in a Cabinet position.

In recent months, another part of Summit County has been considered for a name change. Gore Range, which stretches from Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area in Routt County to the southwestern corner of Summit County, is named for Sir St. George Gore, an Irish aristocrat known for his 1854-57 hunting expedition in the West. The expedition allegedly killed thousands of bison, elk and other animals, and Gore is believed to have never set foot in or near the core of the mountain range named for him. Last year, commissioners in Grand and Summit discussed the potential change, but there has been no update since late 2021.

Residents can still suggest potential replacements for Squaw Creek’s name before the board’s next meeting on April 10. To submit a request, email dnr_cgnab@state.co.us or submit an online recommendation by April 4.

Squaw Creek, marked with red dots, is one of 28 locations in Colorado that will receive a new name, per a secretarial order from the Department of the Interior.
United States Geological Survey/Courtesy photo

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