LAS CRUCES – The city is considering changing the name of a street in the Foothills neighborhood because it uses a term that is offensive to Native American people.
The promontory of East Lohman Avenue in Las Cruces. (Las Cruces Sun News)
The idea of changing the name of Squaw Mountain Drive was recently suggested by Councilor Johana Bencomo when she raised the issue earlier this month during a council discussion on a resolution to recognize indigenous land. But she said she first learned of the derogatory name when the council was considering a zoning issue in the area last winter.
“The reason I mentioned it was because I was so shocked that we had that name on one of our streets,” Bencomo told Sun News.
“Squaw” is considered to be an ethnic slander, especially against Native American women. Last week, US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous person to head a cabinet agency, declared squaw a derogatory term and announced steps to remove it and similar terms from federal geographic place names.
Haaland issued an order on November 19 that not only officially designates “squaw” as an insult, but also sets up a federal working group that will find substitute names for geographic features that currently use the word.
Another order issued by Haaland on the same day sets up a federal advisory committee to evaluate and recommend changes to other derogatory federal geographic names. The committee will consist of experts in tribal representation and civil rights, anthropology and history.
Larry Nichols, director of the city’s community development department – the department tasked with overseeing the possible street name change – said the name change review process was underway.
Since the process was initiated by the city, the name change proposal will require approval from 75% of residents who live on or near Squaw Mountain Drive, Nichols said. You will be notified of the proposal in the mail, Nichols said, and have about 30 days to respond.
If less than 75% agree, the municipality has to wait a year before proposing another name change. If enough residents agree, Nichols said the name change would still be subject to city council approval.
“I know people will see (the name change) as trivial,” said Bencomo. “I know people will say there are more important things to do. But here, too, it is easy to do the right thing. “
Bencomo said she hoped a new name could be created with contributions from current Squaw Mountain Drive residents and the local indigenous community as these are the two groups most affected.
“You may not see yourself reflected in these words (or) in these terms, but there are many people in our community who are,” added Bencomo.
The street is in District 6, represented by City Councilor Yvonne Flores. During a recent council meeting, Flores indicated that she supported the change.