Nature Journal Rips America’s National Park Names for Honoring ‘White Supremacy’ – Opinion

For those of you who patron national parks, it might be said that you’re endorsing racism.

A recent article in the journal People and Nature discusses how names are used to identify natural areas across the country.

The title’s claim: “Patterns in US National Park Place Names Perpetuate Settler Colonial Mythologies Including White Supremacy.”

Bottom line, post-review of 16 parks’ 2,200+ 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.

If I properly understand, when certain white names are used, it’s racism; when American Indian monikers are employed, it’s cultural appropriation.

[T]The proportion of Indigenous-named place names in each national park increased with US colonialism’s westward expansion.

According to the article, colonizers did more than just degrade wooded areas. They also altered the natural world. Near the start of the 20th century — after American Indians had been relegated to reservations — the woods became quaint. It was all ruined by the white man.

Indigenous peoples have stewarded most of the terrestrial Earth for many thousands of years. [But]The decline in Native American stewardship as well as the Euro-American approach of management to national parks was a major change that did not preserve them.

Nature is socially constructed:

[T]he 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.

Next began what the report calls “fortress conservation” — whites “forcibly removed Indigenous peoples,” right in line with “US government anti-Indigenous policies and actions.” And conceited Caucasians named everything after themselves:

The Settler colonial maps, place names, and Indigenous knowledges that are naturalized by this narrative of white dominance, or that displace Indigenous presence, reflect white supremacy, settler colonialism, and white supremacy.

Blacks were also blocked

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 history of racial discrimination in the park and whitewashing of historical events
  • White terrorism is a legacy in the outdoors, as are agricultural enslavement and lynchings.
  • A lack of Black representation on outdoor media and spaces
  • This complex interaction of factors


All probed parks were found to have at least “one or more places or features named after people who supported racist ideologies.” Moreover, “[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.”

They are alarming:

  • Names that constitute “appropriation” (such as Yosemite Valley): 214
  • Names which honor settler colonialism (such Cadillac Mountain) are 254
  • Names of individuals who have supported racist ideas are 21
  • Names to honor victims of racial or physical violence include 52
  • Names that support racist ideas, consisting of the three slurs plus other names (such as Yosemite’s Indian Canyon Creek): 28

As for that last point, researchers highlight the “racial slur” or “swear word” “squaw” — censoriously spelled in “Sq**w Creek.”

Given all the above, how might we fix the “system-wide…urgent crises we face”? Enter the “Reconciliation in Place Names Act,” which aims to rename geographic features.

H.R. 8455:

[N]One geographic feature of the United States should be given a name that denigrates racial minority, perpetuates prejudice, honors or recognizes those who support atrocities against these minorities.

But that’s only the beginning:

It is a natural progression to give back names, and then eventually return land. A land back movement is underway… The Land Defenders have started with Mt. Rushmore is a symbol for white supremacy, systemic racism and disrespect to Indigenous peoples.

Curiously, of course, those characterized as “Indigenous” are purportedly not: According to experts, American Indians traveled here from Asia via the Bering Strait. Similar to European immigrants, these Indians were settled in North America.

A sweep of the country is underway in regards to white supremacy, and other old names. What amount of history is left to be written? It would appear that not much history will be left if we continue on our current path.



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