A suburban Chicago waterway and a western Illinois island have been renamed under a new national policy to remove their previous names’ use of a racist term for a Native American woman.
The water feature near Palos Park in Cook County was formerly called Laughing Squaw Sloughs, but is now known as Cherry Hill Woods Sloughs, while the former Squaw Island in Calhoun County has been renamed Calhoun Island.
The two Illinois sites were renamed on Sept. 8 and are among nearly 650 geographic features across the nation to receive a new name following an order by U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who is the first Native American to lead a cabinet agency.
Haaland’s order, issued in November, declared the word “squaw” derogatory and created a process for reviewing and replacing geographic place names that use the term.
Dorene Wiese, a member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation and president of the American Indian Association of Illinois, said that dating back to the 1800s, cartoon drawings depicted Indigenous women and used the term “squaw” in an offensive way.
Wiese, 73, hopes that removing references to the word in place names will be a step to ensure that the next generation won’t be subjected to its offense, or even know of the word at all.
“That’s our hope, that in the future that will be erased,” she told the Chicago Tribune.