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Rick Perry Hunting Camp

March 3, 2012 by staff 

Rick Perry Hunting Camp, Just east of Victorville in California’s Mojave Desert two bluffs rise 3,000 feet (900 meters) from the valley floor. A 1949 map by the U.S. Geological Survey officially gave them the name locals had called them for as long as anyone could remember: Pickaninny Buttes.

The name, a pejorative term that represents a caricature of black children, was likely bestowed because African Americans attempted a settlement near the Lucerne Valley at the turn of the last century. Whatever the reason, it stuck — and still has the propensity to shock.

“Good grief,” moaned Leon Jenkins, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a civil rights group, when told about the site. “That is just about as offensive as it gets because nowhere in the English language was that used other than to be a slur at little girls.”

Pickaninny Buttes is one of thousands of places across the United States still saddled with names that are an insight into the country’s divisive past, when demeaning names given to areas settled by ethnic or racial minorities were recorded on official government maps and often stuck. Some, like Wop Draw in Wyoming; Jewtown, Georgia; Beaner Lake, Washington state; Wetback Tank reservoir in New Mexico and Polack Lake in Michigan, can sound rudely impolitic to the ears of a more inclusive society.

Others, such as the former Olympic ski resort of Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe have become so ingrained in the vernacular that they’re spoken without a second thought. And yet, nine states are on a mission to scrub “squaw” from their maps, a slang word first given to Native American women that came to mean both a part of the female genitalia and a woman of ill repute. California is not among those states, to the continuing frustration of many regional Indian tribes.

“It’s so disrespectful I’m not even going to say the name,” said Chairman James Ramos of the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians in Southern California. “Every time I hear that I think of our women elders and my daughters and my wife, and I’m not going to degrade them that way by repeating the name. It’s deplorable to all native people across the United States.”

Ramos was incredulous to learn that a conical mountain peak in his tribal area along Interstate 15 between Barstow and Las Vegas is named “Squaw Tit,” one of more than a thousand places across the U.S. with the S-word in it and eight places with the exact name.

“It just seems like dominant society is not culturally sensitive to and doesn’t take seriously Native American thought and feelings,” said Corine Fairbanks of the American Indian Movement.

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