A creek running through the city of Ames in central Iowa was officially renamed from Squaw Creek to Ioway Creek in February 2021, after a yearlong process that involved local and federal agencies. The previous name is now considered an offensive reference to Native American women. The creek’s new name honors the original Indigenous inhabitants of the area, the Ioway or Baxoje nation.

The City Council of Ames had voted unanimously in January 2020 to change the name. Its decision affirmed a similar vote earlier that month by the Story County Board of Supervisors. These votes were in response to a petition filed by an Ames resident, which itself was preceded by long-standing interest from Native American students in initiating a change.

As a scholar of American and Indigenous history, Iowa State University Assistant Professor of American Religions Sarah Dees has studied representations of Native American cultures in American public history and memory. While seemingly a minor local issue affecting residents of a few counties in Iowa, the renaming of Ioway Creek is part of a larger trend throughout the Midwest and the country. This trend involves changing Native-inspired place names from slurs or markers of Euro-American conquest to names that reflect Indigenous languageshistories and mapmaking.

Read Dees’ full article in The Conversation here.