It could be argued that those who frequent the national parks are promoting racism. In the magazine People and Nature, a new article blasts the names of natural park areas across the country. The title claims that “Patterns in US National Park Place Names Perpetuate Settler Colonial Mythologies Including White Supremacy.”
The bottom line: the post-review of the 2,200+ parks' names: “All national parks examined have place names that tacitly endorse racist or…anti-Indigenous ideologies, thus perpetuating settler colonialism and white supremacy…for future generations.”
Apparently, when certain “white” names are used, it's considered racism, and when American Indian monikers are employed, it’s cultural appropriation. “The proportion of place names per national park that appropriated Indigenous names increased in parallel with the westward expansion and evolution of US settler colonialism.”
According to the article, not only did colonizers label wooded areas in a lascivious way, they changed the very nature of nature. Near the start of the 20th century—after American Indians had been exiled to reservations—the woods were serene, but the white man messed it up. “Most of terrestrial Earth has been stewarded for thousands of years by Indigenous peoples. [But] national park ecosystems were dramatically changed, rather than preserved, with the loss of Native American stewardship and the Euro-American hands-off approach to management of the parks.”
The nature of the world is a social construct: “The idea of wilderness and ‘pristine’ national parks is an invention and ecologically unsound. In the words of historian Mark David Spence, ‘Uninhabited wilderness had to be created before it could be preserved, and this type of landscape became [physically represented] in the first national parks.’ Perhaps evidence that wilderness is a western invention is that many Indigenous languages do not have a word for wilderness.”
Then came what the report described as “fortress conservation”: whites “forcibly removed Indigenous peoples,” which was in accordance with “US government anti-Indigenous policies and actions.” And they were conceited. Caucasians have named everything after themselves. “Settler colonial maps and place names that naturalize this narrative of white dominance or that displace Indigenous knowledges and presence are, thus, direct reflections of white supremacy and settler colonialism.”
Black persons were ostracized: “Beyond the issues of Indigenous displacement and erasure, we must also consider the relationship between parks and other minoritized peoples… For example, Black people are 13% of the US population yet they are only 1% of US national park visitors, while white people are 76% of the US population and 96% of visitors.”
“Signals” for “Black absence or exclusion”: “Park histories of racial discrimination and the white-washing of history; the outdoors embodying a legacy of white terrorism, for example, lynchings and agricultural enslavement; the lack of Black representation in outdoor media and outdoor spaces; the complex interplay of these factors.”
The parks surveyed were all identified to have at the very minimum “one or more places or features named after people who supported racist ideologies.” Furthermore, “[79%] were assigned a class other than ‘no,' ‘no information' or ‘other,' in the categories for derogatory, erasure and dimensions of racism and settler colonialism.”
The numbers are wicked: “Names that constitute ‘appropriation’ (such as Yosemite Valley): 214; names that memorialize settler colonialism (such as Cadillac Mountain): 254; names that commemorate an individual who supported racist ideas: 21; names that commemorate individuals that perpetrated physical, racial violence: 52; names that support racist ideas, consisting of the three slurs plus other names (such as Yosemite’s Indian Canyon Creek): 28.”
For that final point, researchers draw attention to that “racial slur” or “swear word” “squaw”–that is censoriously written as “Sq**w Creek.”
Given all the above, how might we fix the “system-wide…urgent crises we face”? The answer is “The “Reconciliation in Place Names Act,” which seeks to rename geographical areas. From H.R. 8455: “No geographic feature in the United States should have a name which disparages racial minorities, perpetuates prejudice, or honors those who committed or supported atrocities against racial minorities.”
However, that's just the beginning. “A natural progression from giving names back is to eventually give land back. A land back movement is underway… The Land Defenders have started with Mt. Rushmore, a symbol of white supremacy and systemic racism to Indigenous people.”
Incredibly, the people who are described by the term “Indigenous” are purportedly not, as per experts. American Indians traveled here from Asia via the Bering Strait. Similar to the North American “colonists” who originated from Europe.
As for white supremacy and its relationship to other “old names” across the country, there is a clean sweep in progress. What will be the final outcome? How much of our past will remain? If our current path is maintained, it appears very little.