New law will remove the word ‘squaw’ from California place names
State lawmakers today are about to pass legislation to remove the words “squaw” and “wampum” from a vast swathe of state and national geographic place names, according to California Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who sponsors the bill.
Known as the “Yee Act,” the proposed legislation would amend the state’s constitution to remove “squaw” and “wampum” from such terms in place names as the San Gabriel Mountains, the Klamath River, the Blue Mountains of southern Oregon, and the Santa Cruz Mountains, according to a Senate press release.
This is the first time in history that anyone has proposed a constitutional amendment to remove the word “squaw” or “wampum” from place names, according to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Yee Act, co-authored by the Senate Budget and Finance Committee chair, Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, passed out of committee Tuesday and is sponsored now by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach. Leno said he plans to introduce the legislation this week to the full Senate.
“Squaw is a derogatory term — it’s racist – and it’s totally against the cultural, ethnographic and historical origins of our country,” Leno said in an e-mail to the Union-Tribune. “It’s a great shame that a few people still have a strong attachment to it, and it’s a shame that we are in touch with a certain group that would have us forget that.”
Leno said he had several discussions with Yee in recent months over removing the words from California place names. They are the third-youngest state in the U.S., behind New York and Vermont, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Yee’s proposed legislation is the first of its kind for the nation, according to Leno. He said he expects the bill to pass easily but noted that California is such a diverse state that removing the words from state or federal place names could be a divisive issue.
“I’m hoping for the best, but I’ve done a lot of