Derogatory name changes ‘very important’ to indigenous Nebraskans

In Nebraska, seven sites have new names, and six in Iowa.
You may not know it but a few weeks ago there were some name changes for public lands in the U.S.
Published: Oct. 13, 2022 at 3:03 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Words carry weight, and for America’s first people, they often carry pain.

Perhaps none more than the word squaw.

“You know that term that was created long ago pertaining to our women and considering them property and identifying them as squaws, this is probably one of the most derogatory names that we can [use to] identify our beautiful women, our beautiful indigenous Native American women.”

Omaha’s Steve Tamayo is a passionate artist, teacher, and leader. He stands tall in his Lakota heritage and applauds efforts by the Department of the Interior to change nearly 650 geographic sites formally and essentially erase the word “squaw” from the USGA map.

“For the U.S. Government to actually jump on board and go throughout this country and change that derogatory name, this is a blessing to all of our women, of the past, the present, and of the future,” Tamayo said. “It shines a different light upon our females, as the sacred beings that they are, as the life givers. It’s about time we get rid of these derogatory names that have been identifying us for hundreds of years.”

In Nebraska, seven sites have new names, and six in Iowa.

“I think it’s very important that things like those names need to be changed because over years and years you know people made fun of us and used those things against us,” Omaha tribal member Ella Johnston said. “I think it’s time for a change, I think it will mean a lot for all Native Americans to see that we’re being acknowledged.”

“It’s not just a word,” Marquis LaMere said. “It’s not just a word, especially when it’s used against you. It’s derogatory. It’s demeaning. So it’s a lot of things. I get emotional just thinking about it.”

Marquis is an advocate for young kids today, trying to teach them ways to navigate their world. As a Native American child growing up in Omaha, he learned painful lessons.

“I grew up here and that word was said to me a lot, about my family, my mother, my grandmothers,” he said. “I grew up here in South Omaha and it was different, at the time we were the only minority family in our neighborhood.”

“I was on the bad end of that stick every day of my life, growing up as a little kid, six, seven-years-old, getting beat up by 14, 15, 16, 17-year-olds every day because I’m Indian because I’m Native because I’m Dakota.”

To Tamayo, there have always been much better words to describe women. The reader is asked to please excuse the poor translation of his Lakota words to describe the stages of a Native American woman’s life.