CNLM Cooperates with Cahuilla Tribe to rename geographic feature

  |   CNLM News

When CNLM acquired the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve in Riverside County, CA, we noted there was a topographic feature called Squaw Hill. The word ‘squaw” is an ethnic and sexual slur, historically applied to indigenous North American women. (As such, we shall refer to this term only as “sq—” for the remainder of this article.) There is little information about when this name was first applied to the hill, although it is found on early maps of the 20th Century. This name was documented and codified as a local place name by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN), under the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), on December 31, 1981. This was during the “Geographic Names Phase I data compilation (1976-1981).” The originator of the name was listed as the U.S. Geological Survey, likely when the USGS was mapping the country during the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th Century.

The 1904 topographic map does not show the Thousand Palms Oasis or Sq— Hill, but the Coachella Valley had not been mapped at that point except in the area closely surrounding the railroads. It was not until the railroad came through this region in 1877 that any maps of the area were created. The location of the railway stations through the area – including Palm Springs, Edom (now Thousand Palms), Woodspur (now Coachella) and Indio – was the limit of the mapped region. The first map that CNLM staff could find showing Sq— Hill was the 1944 map on the U.S.G.S Edom quadrangle.

In 2018, the CNLM Preserve Manager decided to investigate the possibility of renaming the feature. After discovering the BGN, the Preserve Manager was informed that the renaming process was, at that time, an application that would be followed by BGN discussions with local tribes and governments associated with the feature. The process, we were told, could take up to a year. The Preserve Manager then approached the Director of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO Director) at the Agua Caliente Tribal office and requested her assistance in choosing an appropriate name.

The THPO Director agreed that this was a process worth undertaking. It is currently recognized that the term “squaw” is extremely derogatory. In this case it would have referred to the women of the tribe native to this valley, the Cahuilla people, and specifically to the Agua Caliente Tribe of Cahuilla Indians who have lived in this valley and in this oasis for thousands of years. It is known that the tribe had inhabited this palm oasis, the second largest in the Coachella Valley. In fact, in discussion with the THPO Director, CNLM subsequently learned that the Thousand Palms Oasis was the site of a major Cahuilla village, called Yum Ich You (pronounced yoom itch yoo).

In late January 2022, the Agua Caliente Tribal Council approved Resolution No. 02-22 naming and recognizing the hill as Múmawet (pronounced moo’ ma whet). The CNLM Preserve Manager then approached several local government agencies asking for letters of support. Letters were received from County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez and the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy. CNLM sent in an application to the BGN. They responded that they were no longer accepting applications to change the name of any feature called “Sq—” as there was a new procedure in place.

On February 23, 2022, the Department of the Interior (DOI) Geologic Survey published a notice in the Federal Register entitled ‘Reconciliation of Derogatory Geographic Names Tribal Consultation’. This notice provided a list of five suggested names for each of the features listed (including Sq— Hill), and particularly invited Tribal consultation on these features. As none of the suggestions were satisfactory to either CNLM or the Agua Caliente tribe, the Preserve Manager provided written comments stating our objections and sent our application to the DOI with information regarding the ongoing conversation with the tribe. The Cahuilla Tribe also filed a notice stating their preference to the choice of names, specifically the name they had already chosen: Múmawet

As of the date of this article, the process is ongoing. The comment period closed on April 25, 2022. It is likely that the process will take months, if not longer. However, CNLM, the Agua Caliente Tribe, and others have already started calling the hill ‘Múmawet’. It is a great talking point for visitors who are interested in the history of the Preserve. We continue to collaborate with the tribe for signs and educational material and are honored to work with them to officially recognize a respectful and appropriate name for this important cultural resource.