‘We can move forward’: Bill creating path to change names offensive to Native Americans moves to House

2015 file photo of Shinob Kibe, which represents a sacred Paiute place but which Shivwits Band of Paiutes chair Carmen Clark says is spelled and pronounced incorrectly, Washington County, Utah, circa December 2015 | Photo by Dave Amodt, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A Senate bill that would create a process for changing the names of landmarks across Utah that are considered offensive to Native Americans passed in the Senate on Feb. 10, and after unanimous approval Tuesday in a House committee, it will move to the full House for consideration. 

Place Name Amendments, designated SB 10 in the 2021 Legislature and sponsored by Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake, does not automatically change the names of landmarks but creates a clear, formal process for suggesting changing the name of a landmark and including the proper parties in the decision.

The bill originally included landmarks using the word “squaw,” a term that is derogatory toward Native American women, but that was changed in the Senate to include any name viewed as offensive to Native Americans.

Iwamoto told St. George News that with all the division the past year has brought, this bill is a good step in the direction of unity. She added that having a process is important so people can have a clear voice in bringing change. 

“We can’t change the past, but we can move forward,” Iwamoto said. “This will go a long way toward supporting local communities and Native American women. … As a person of color, I’m really working on people of color’s issues, and this resonates with me so strongly because it’s important that we support women of color.”

Sen. Jani Iwamoto | Photo courtesy of the Utah Senate, St. George News.

Shivwits Band of Paiutes Chairwoman Carmen Clark told St. George News that after the bill passed in the Senate and she had a chance to read through it, she was pleased with the language. 

“The main thing that pops into my head is respect because of the regard of the feelings, rights or traditions of Natives,” Clark said. “It’s like ending the era of harmful and offensive names.”

Clark told St. George News in December there are several local landmarks she would like to see included in the bill. Some of the names, such as Navajo Lake near Cedar City and the Shinob Kibe Cave in Washington, aren’t exactly offensive but are not named correctly.

She said that these landmarks should have Paiute names, spellings and pronunciation to reflect the Paiutes, who have lived in Southern Utah for centuries. The change to the bill will make it possible to suggest changing the names of landmarks like these.

The process outlined in the bill will include the appropriate tribes, cities and counties in any decisions about changing names in an area, as well as input from the community. It will also include input from the Utah Committee on Geographic Names, a group designated to work with the United States Board on Geographic Names to review name changes and additions in Utah. 

This undated file photo shows a sign at the entrance of the Negro Bill Canyon Trailhead near Moab, Utah. After years of debate, a U.S. government board voted unanimously to rename Negro Bill Canyon, overruling a recommendation by Utah officials to keep the name | Photo by John Hollenhorst, The Deseret News via The Associated Press, St. George News

Tamra Borchardt-Slayton, chair of the Paiute Tribe of Utah, told St. George News that this process is so important because there was previously nothing to make clear how a name could be changed and who would be involved in changing it. She referenced Grandstaff Canyon near Canyonlands National Park, which until 2017 was known as Negro Bill Canyon. That name change took years because there was no formal process to follow, Borchardt-Slayton said. 

“This is the first step for us in the state of Utah to have a say and have the stakeholders present because previously there was no formal process,” she said. “It’s easier if there’s a roadmap.”

Iwamoto said since the Senate committee hearing for SB10, her bill has been confused with a House bill that would create a name change process for Dixie State University. Because name changes like these are being proposed in so many different places, it’s a good time to support the Native American community, she said, but she hopes this bill won’t be confused further with similar legislation. 

On  Tuesday, SB 10 received a unanimous favorable recommendation from the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, which includes Southern Utah Rep. Phil Lyman. It will now be presented on the House floor.

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 Utah Legislature here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!