SACRAMENTO—Gov. Newsom today signed a proposal to prohibit the use of the word “squaw” (S-word) for geographic features and place names in California by January 1, 2024. The measure, AB 2022, was introduced by Assemblymembers James C. Ramos (D-Highland), the first California Native American elected to the state legislature and Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. AB 2022 was part of a five-bill Ramos tribal package sent to Newsom and which he has approved.
In the release announcing approval of the tribal measures, Newsom said, “As we lift up the rich history and contributions of California’s diverse tribal communities today, the state recommits to building on the strides we have made to redress historical wrongs and help empower Native communities. He added, “I thank all the legislators and tribal partners whose leadership and advocacy help light the path forward in our work to build a better, stronger and more just state together.”
Ramos stated, “AB 2022 would ban the use of the S-word and establish a process for renaming locations with that offensive racial and sexist term which began as derogatory word used against Native American women. It is an idiom that came into use during the westward expansion of America, and it is not a tribal word. For decades, Native Americans have argued against the designation’s use because behind that expression is the disparagement of Native women that contributes to the crisis of missing and murdered people in our community,” Ramos noted.
Ramos added that more than 100 places in California contain the S-word. The United States Department of the Interior earlier this month renamed about 650 sites using the slur on federal lands. Montana, Oregon, Maine and Minnesota have already banned the word’s use.
Garcia commented, “The sad reality is that this term has been used for generations and normalized, even though it is a misogynistic and racist term rooted in the oppression and belittling of Indigenous women. AB 2022 begins to correct an ugly and painful part of our history by removing it from California’s landmarks; it’s the least we can do to help our indigenous women heal.”
AB 2022 would require every state agency, local governing body or political subdivisions in this state to identify all geographic sites, public lands, waters, and structures under its jurisdiction containing the S-word. These bodies shall file a report identifying those names with the California Advisory Committee of Geographic Names. The advisory committee will establish a procedure to elicit input and rename locations that have been identified. In selecting replacement names, local governments, state agencies, and shall solicit input from tribes maintained on the California Native American Heritage Commission list and prioritize their input, as well as the input of appropriate local communities and members of the public.
The proposal defines a geographic feature as any location or publicly owned structure in the state such as navigable water, parks, local roads, bridges and publicly owned buildings. A place is defined in the proposal as a natural geographic feature or street, alley, or other road within the jurisdiction of the state or political subdivision of the state.
AB 2022 is sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union CA, Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, Restorative Justice for Indigenous Peoples and Renaming S-valley Coalition.
It is supported by the Tachi Yokut Tribe, Tule River Tribe, Fresno Barrios Unidos Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley, Native Dad’s Network, Native Sisters Circle, Restoring Justice for Indigenous Peoples, Rising Hearts, ACLU California Action, American Indian Cultural Center of San Francisco (AICC), Friendship House Association of American Indians, California Teachers Association, California Consortium for Urban Indian Health, California Native Vote Project, American Indian Student Association at California, California Native Vote Project, State University, Northridge, Anti Police-Terror Project, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, Dignity and Power Now, International Indian Treaty Council, Justice Teams Network and Save California Salmon.
The other Ramos tribal bills signed today are:
- AB 923 which requires state agency leaders to undertake training in properly communicating and interacting with tribes on government-to-government issues that affect them.
- AB 1314 that creates a “Feather Alert – similar to those used in cases of abducted children – to enlist public assistance to quickly find Native Americans missing under suspicious circumstances. Native Americans face disproportionate numbers of missing and murdered people in their communities.
- AB 1703, the California Indian Education Act, that encourages school districts, charter schools and county offices of education to engage with the tribes in their area to provide more accurate and complete instruction about the tribes’ culture and history and share instructional materials with the California Department of Education.
- AB 1936 which authorizes the University of California Hastings Law College of the Law to remove the name of its founder, Serranus C. Hastings from the school’s name and specifies restorative justice measures for the Yuki and Round Valley Native Americans in Northern California whose ancestors Hastings had slaughtered in the 1850s.
Assemblymember James Ramos proudly represents the 40th Assembly district which includes Highland, Loma Linda, Mentone, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, and San Bernardino. He is the first and only California Native American serving in the state’s legislature. He chairs the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.