Despite strong opposition from some area residents and a U.S. congressman, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday it is changing the name of the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri because the term "squaw" is considered offensive.
The new name is Loess Bluff National Wildlife Refuge, in recognition of nearby hills that stretch from 30 miles south of St. Joseph to northern Iowa, according to a news release from agency director Dan Ashe.
Republican U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, who represents the district where the refuge is located, has led opposition to the name change and vowed Wednesday to do what he could to reverse the decision.
The refuge, with about 7,400 acres of wetlands, grasslands, and forests in the Missouri River flood plain, is an important stop for thousands of migrating birds. It has been called Squaw Creek since it was established in 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt. The name recognizes a creek of the same name that runs through the refuge.
"While the creek is an important part of refuge hydrology and related habitats, and is steeped in history and local lore, the word 'squaw' is offensive in contemporary context and is no longer an acceptable name in the National Wildlife Refuge System," Ashe said in the release. "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."
Graves told The St. Joseph News-Press on Wednesday that Fish and Wildlife officials have not provided official documents needed so legislation can be filed to preserve the Squaw Creek name. He said he believes he has 60 days to repeal the motion, a timeline that begins when the agency takes official action to formally change the name.
"This is a ridiculous overreach of federal power, and we're prepared to do whatever possible to stop it from happening," Graves said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said it will take some time to completely implement the name change, including updating signage, brochures, websites and other public information.