Linn County renames Squaw Creek Park after Meskwaki woman

Published: Sep. 28, 2020 at 4:02 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - County officials have announced their choice to rename a park in Linn County after determining its current name is considered an ethnic and sexual slur.

The Linn County Conservation Board announced on Monday that it will rename Squaw Creek Park to Wanatee Park effective immediately. The decision to change the name came after lengthy discussions between various governmental groups, historians, and the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi of Iowa. The leaders of the Sac and Fox Tribe lent support for the subject of the new name, Jean Adeline Morgan Wanatee, as a way to honor her history as well as those of native Americans in the state.

“The Meskwaki Nation applauds your willingness to make changes that honor people through the use of their name, and not diminish them as human beings through the use of derogatory terms. Especially, we thank all who have championed this name change to honor one of our own," Judith Bender, chairwoman of the tribe, wrote, according to a statement released by Linn County officials.

Wanatee, pronounced Whon'-uh-tee, was born on the Meskwaki Indian Settlement in Tama County in 1910. She lived there until her death in 1996, raising seven children with her husband. She was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 for her work with the Meskwaki Nation and for her advocacy for women’s rights. Wanatee was the first woman elected to the Meskwaki Tribal Council nationally, as well as chair of the school board and first woman on the local pow-wow association. She also served in state roles, such as a seat on the Governor’s Advisory Committee and the Iowa Art Council’s “artist-in-the-schools” program.

Dennis Goemaat, Linn County Conservation’s executive director, said the momentum for a name change started after seeing the “squaw” name dropped from parks and other sites nationwide as it is deemed a derogatory and sexual slur towards Native American women. It also follows national reviews of Native American names and imagery after the NFL team in Washington, D.C. dropped its Redskins moniker.

“The Conservation Board supports a spirit of inclusion for everyone, and a name that is derogatory and widely accepted as a slur should no longer be validated,” Goemaat said, in a statement. “We are strengthening efforts to apply inclusivity policies for management of our parks and other areas for future generations."

Goemaat said the process appears as simple as registering the name change with the U.S. Geological Survey. He said the only costs with a name change would be signage at the park. He says the timing on that is perfect as the county was already discussing the need for a new entry sign for the park.

Renaming the creek is a bit more complex. Goemaat said it requires an application with the USGS, which triggers a review process. As part of that process, the USGS would consult with other entities with a stake in the name. That’s why Goemaat is working now to talk with leaders in Marion and Cedar Rapids, where Squaw Creek runs.

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