‘It should have a Paiute name’: Shivwits chime in on state bill proposing name changes of landmarks

2015 file photo of Shinob Kibe, , Washington County, Utah, circa December 2015 | Photo by Dave Amodt, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A bill drafted in November would create a process to rename Utah landmarks that are offensive to Native Americans. The Shivwits Band of Paiutes and the Paiute Tribe of Utah recently spoke with St. George News about their reaction to the proposed legislation and identified landmarks in Southern Utah that they would like to see renamed. 

A view of Navajo Lake in the Dixie National Forest, Utah, Sept. 8, 2019 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

The bill, labeled Place Name Amendments and sponsored by Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, would outline how to change names that are seen as discriminatory, where there previously was no specific process, said Tamra Borchardt-Slayton, chair of the Paiute Tribe of Utah. It’s time for society to recognize and actively change names that are offensive, she said. 

“Our society has evolved, we know right from wrong,” Borchardt-Slayton said. “We know historically that these names, if you go look them up, they are derogatory names against a specific place, and that is not okay.”

The bill includes landmarks across Utah that have the word “squaw” in the name, which is considered a slur against Native American women. 

‘I wish they’d approach us’

Specific to Southern Utah, Borchardt-Slayton said Squaw Cave near Cedar City should be renamed. Individuals who have an emotional tie to a landmark might not be happy with a name change, she said, but it is important for society to progress.

Shivwits Tribal Councilman Glenn Rogers agreed, adding that local Native American tribes should have a say in naming the landmarks in their area. He hopes that if and when the time comes, the Shivwits will be included in renaming sites where the tribe was historically present, and the same goes for other tribes in their respective areas, he said.

“I wish they’d approach us so we can get some kind of dialogue going,” he said. “We need to be included. You can’t go to one place, like the Cedar Band or whomever, because they have their own history and their own named sites in that area. We have our own names for some hills and sacred areas that we can identify.”

A landmark can be named after a Native American tribe or culture without being offensive, Rogers said. The Shivwits have names for all the animals, insects and plants in the area, and he would like to see some local landmarks named after those things, he said. 

However, there are some local landmarks that are incorrectly named after Native American tribes or words, said Shivwits Chairwoman Carmen Clark. Shinob Kibe Cave in Washington is a sacred Paiute place, soonungwu kaib, whose name translates to “cayote’s house.” The current name is spelled and pronounced incorrectly, she said. She added that Navajo Lake near Cedar City is named after the wrong tribe. 

A view of Zion’s monoliths near Canyon Junction is shrouded by clouds, Zion National Park, March 23, 2018 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

“Why is it called Navajo Lake when the Navajos weren’t even in this area?” she said. “It should have a Paiute name.”

Clark added that Zion, another place historically roamed by the Paiutes, used to be called “Mukuntu” before it was changed in 1909. The Paiutes called it “Mukuntuweap.” It would be nice to have the name changed back, she said. 

While these examples wouldn’t necessarily fall under the definition of “discriminatory,” Borchardt-Slayton said if Iwamoto’s bill passes in the spring, it will outline a process for changing the names of other landmarks that do not include the word “squaw.”

Questions of collaboration

In February, Cedar City Rep. Rex Shipp sponsored House Joint Resolution 10, a bill that discouraged the removal of Native American names, images and symbols unless local tribes agreed to the changes. The process should be done carefully and include the consideration of affected tribes, he said. 

Shipp’s legislation was spurred by the 2019 changing of the Cedar High School mascot from the Redmen to the Reds. While proponents of the mascot change said the Redmen name and associated imagery was considered offensive, the removal of which would be supported by Iwamoto’s proposed legislation, Shipp said in February that some Native American members of the Cedar City community expressed frustration with the mascot change.

Although Shipp’s resolution did not make it past the first reading in the Utah House, he reiterated what he said was the importance of due process in a recent email to St. George News.

“I believe it would be very important to get input from the local people that reside in those areas and the local elected officials as well as the local Native Americans,” he wrote. 

In February, before his resolution was filed with other bills not passed in the 2019 Legislature, Shipp said he had been reaching out to Native American tribes to make sure the resolution adequately addresses their concerns; however, Borchardt-Slayton told St. George News the Paiute Tribe of Utah was never involved in the process and does not support the bill. Rogers agreed. 

“I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “But they need to come to the Shivwits council and the chair and talk to them. They need to ask a lot of us.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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