By Ed Kalama and Puanani Fernandez-Akamine
On August 9, the “International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the names of the members of a newly formed federal advisory group – the Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names – two of whom are Native Hawaiian.
Representing Hawaiʻi will be Niniaukapealiʻi Kawaihae, a special assistant with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and Kamanaʻolana Mills, Kamehameha Schools’ senior supervising project manager for Sustainable Industry Development.
The 17-member advisory committee was appointed by Haaland to help identify and recommend changes to derogatory place names in use throughout America.
“Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage – not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression,” said Haaland. “The Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names will accelerate an important process to reconcile derogatory place names. I look forward to listening and learning from this esteemed group.”
The committee includes representatives of Native American Tribes and tribal organizations, Native Hawaiian organizations, and individuals with expertise in history, civil rights, anthropology and geography. There are also four “ex officio” committee members representing the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Defense and Commerce.
Establishment of the advisory group is a result of Secretary’s Order 3405, which Haaland issued last November, proposing the creation of an advisory committee to solicit, review and recommend changes to derogatory geographic and federal place names.
An outcome of the committee’s work will be to develop a process to solicit and assist with proposals to Haaland to identify and change derogatory place names and will involve engagement with tribes, the Native Hawaiian community, state and local governments and the general public.
When colonial entities replace traditional Indigenous place names with new names that are easier for them to pronounce or that reflect their vision of the land it is a practice referred to as “name-stripping.” The renaming of Indigenous land by colonists establishes their dominance and control. It also erases the history and ʻike of those places that are preserved within the original names and, in the process, diminishes the original namers.
Both Kawaihae and Mills are grateful for the opportunity to be able to assist in the process of identifying and changing derogatory place names and, hopefully, re-establishing some of the original names given by the Indigenous peoples of those places.
“It is an honor to be able to join the Secretary and fellow committee members to reconcile derogatory place names and establish a process by which Indigenous voices can be honored when selecting a name for a geographic feature,” said Kawaihae.
“I am deeply honored to be selected for this advisory committee,” added Mills. “I hope to work with my committee members, Native Hawaiians, and the community in restoring and honoring the traditional place names of our ʻāina.”
Committee members are expected to meet for the first time in the coming months and then two to four times a year to identify geographic names and federal land unit names that are considered derogatory and solicit proposals for replacement names.
“It is important that the voice and perspective of the Native Hawaiian people continue to be heard on a national level, and we mahalo Secretary Haaland for including these outstanding leaders in this critical endeavor of helping to eliminate the symbols of oppression in our collective past,” said Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey. “We also salute Niniau and Kamanaʻo for their commitment and willingness to serve. It will be very interesting to see the results of this committee’s work.”
Others named to the committee include Derek Alderman, Angelo Baca, Kiana Carlson, Julie Dye, Michael Catches Enemy, Donald Lee Fixico, Christine Karpchuck-Johnson, Jason MacCannell, Lauren Monroe Jr., Federico Mosqueda, Rachel Pereira, Kimberly Probolus-Cedroni, Howard Dale Valandra, Aimee Villarreal, Elva Yanez, Charles Bowery, Meryl Harrell, Elizabeth Klein and Letise LaFeir.
Secretary Deb Haaland is the first Native American cabinet secretary in the history of the United States. She is a tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo people whose family has lived in what is now known as New Mexico for 35 generations.