U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe has announced a name change for Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge to Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge.
However, some dispute whether the change is set in stone.
U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, said he was on the phone with Fish and Wildlife officials Wednesday morning. He said the agency has yet to provide the official documentation needed so formal legislation can be filed to preserve the Squaw Creek name.
“We’re taking today’s announcement very seriously, however, and although we’re disappointed by it, we are not surprised," Graves said. “This is a ridiculous overreach of federal power, and we’re prepared to do whatever possible to stop it from happening.”
The agency announced the change Wednesday morning, saying the name “squaw” was derived from an area stream but is considered “offensive in contemporary context and is no longer an acceptable name in the National Wildlife Refuge System.”
“Our decision is consistent with more than two decades of work across the American landscape to end derogatory naming practices for geographical names, as well as the common names given to plants and animal species across North America,” the agency said in its release. “It is important that federal lands within the National Wildlife Refuge System are respectful to all cultural and ethnic groups.”
Because the refuge was established through executive order, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has authority to rename the refuge.
One Holt County resident says he doesn’t have a dog in this fight.
“This doesn’t surprise me,” said Lanny Ming, a Holt County farmer. “The government’s relationship with several Indian tribes in the past was nothing to be proud of, so I see where they can be offended by it.”
Meng won’t fight the change but the expense is a problem.
“The other side is it’s going to cost a lot of money for that name change,” Meng said.
He said he’ll wait to see what happens in the political arena, and Graves said he has a plan.
“We have 60 days to act to repeal the motion,” Graves said, “but today’s press release doesn’t start that clock. That won’t begin until official agency action is taken to formally and legally change the name.”
The government’s decision to change the name has drawn criticism from some local residents in Holt County as well as from Graves, whose district includes the wildlife refuge.