Montana lawmakers push bill removing anti-Native American slurs from geographic sites
A bill that would strip the word “half-breed” and another derogatory term for Native Americans from Montana place names, signs and maps won easy approval on Friday from a state House of Representatives committee.
The measure, sponsored by a Republican lawmaker, expands a bill passed by the state legislature in 1999 that stripped place names of the word “squaw,” used as a pejorative term for Native American women.
The bill striking “half-breed” or “breed” from the titles of 17 geographic sites or features in Montana and renaming them cleared the State Administration Committee in a 20-0 vote and now moves to the full House.
Montana tribes have made it a priority to rid the state of place names that contain offensive words that were added to the lexicon at a time when Indians were treated as second-class citizens or even non-citizens, said Gerald Gray, chairman of the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe in north central Montana.
“We don’t need reminders in this day and age of how severely we were discriminated against,” Gray said.
If approved by the Republican-led Montana legislature as expected and signed into law by the state’s Democratic governor, the measure would see updating of maps, signs and other markers when they need replacing because of age or vandalism.
Montana is one of several U.S. states in which the word “squaw” has been removed from place names. The vote comes as the National Football League’s Washington Redskins face pressure to change their name. The Oklahoma City Public Schools Board last year voted unanimously to remove “Redskins” as the nickname for a high school after hearing pleas from students and teachers who found the term offensive
The demeaning reference once appeared in the titles of more than 800 geographic places or features in the United States but it has since been excised from numerous sites in states including Maine and Oregon, according to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
The board must approve or reject name changes proposed by federal and state governments.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Doina Chiacu)