Researchers Identify Nearly 1,000 ‘Racist’ Or ‘Derogatory’ Names in America’s National Parks
North America, USA, Montana, Glacier National Park, Entrance monument Sign.
Bernard Friel/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A group of researchers has identified 960 places within 16 of the nation’s national parks with names they deem as racist, promoting white supremacy, or presenting similar concerns.

The findings were revealed last month in an article for People and Nature by several researchers including Grace Wu and Kurt Ingeman that included research from among 2,241 names in the United States.

“Part of decolonizing our professional and recreational practices is to expose settler colonial biases and recognize the histories of colonized lands and the peoples who have stewarded these lands for millennia prior to colonization,” the article’s abstract noted.

“All national parks examined have place names that tacitly endorse racist or, more specifically, anti-Indigenous ideologies, thus perpetuating settler colonialism and white supremacy at the system scale for future generations,” the authors added.

The study identified 254 names it claims “memoralizes” colonialism. One example is Roys Peak in Texas’ Big Bend National Park, claiming the name threatens to “erase Indigenous knowledge.”

Another 214 names were included under the category of cultural appropriation.

The list was divided into several categories including derogatory, erasure and dimensions of racism, and colonialism. The categories were used to help provide national parks options to potentially rename places.

Natchee Barnd, an associate professor at Oregon State University, compared the recommended changes to sports teams like the NFL’s Washington Commanders.

“We change things all the time. You mentioned sports; we change the names of stadiums every couple of years. People have no problem figuring out the new name of the stadium based off who is paying the rights to have their name attached to it. So we can shift and adjust as we want,” Barnd said.

Though seemingly surprising to many Americans, it’s not the only recent call to rename public lands due to offensive names.

Last month, Scientific American published an opinion piece by Bonnie McGill entitled “Offensive Names Should Be Removed from Public Lands.”

McGill’s publication included clearer examples of recommended changes “such as Squaw Canyon and Squaw Flat in Canyonlands National Park and Squaw Creek in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.” She noted the word “squaw” has been used as an insult to “demean Native American women.”

Other names are more focused on traditional indigenous names that were later replaced by European settlers. Mt. McKinley in Alaska, for example, was named after an American president. In 2015, then-President Barack Obama renamed Mt. McKinley to Denali, acknowledging the traditional native name.

“Today we are honored to be able to officially recognize the mountain as Denali,” Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement at the time. “I’d like to thank the President for working with us to achieve this significant change to show honor, respect, and gratitude to the Athabascan people of Alaska.”