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Las Cruces lawmakers and residents clash over decision to rename street with federally recognized slur

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - Las Cruces lawmakers want to move forward with changing the name of a street which has a federally recognized slur, but multiple residents say they want to keep the name of the street the same.

"I came across the street name and I frankly was floored," said Councilwoman Johana Bencomo, who does not represent the neighborhood, but is leading the efforts to change the name of the street.

“I like the name Squaw Mountain and it’s not derogatory to me," said Jerry Ogledzinski, who has lived on the road for 27 years. "With these new activists, what’s going to be next?”

Ogledzinski has joined at least 19 neighbors in signing a petition stating that they want the name of the road to stay the same. Squaw Mountain Drive is in east Las Cruces, south of Lohman Avenue and west of Sonoma Ranch Boulevard.

Normally, Las Cruces will consider changing the name of a street if 75% of residents approve of the change, according to the city.

“Technically I think the city could circumvent that, but I think it would be ill advised and unwise to do that," said Mayor Ken Miyagishima. "It's really what the residents want and not necessarily what city council wants."

“People are going to find things offensive all the time," said Karen Dixon, who has lived on Squaw Mountain Drive for eight years. "If we start bowing down to everybody who gets offended, then we’re just going to be chasing fires.”

“It’s not an opinion of whether this word is a slur or not," Bencomo said. "It is a slur and it shouldn’t be on a street name.” 

“It’s very demeaning to women," said Councilwoman Yvonne Flores, who represents the neighborhood.

The word "squaw" translates to "an Indigenous woman of North America," according to Merriam-Webster. The dictionary also defines it as an offensive term to Native American people.

One month ago, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland declared the word "squaw" to be derogatory. Haaland, formerly a New Mexico congresswoman, is from Laguna Pueblo near Albuquerque.

Kate Bieri

Kate Bieri is ABC-7’s New Mexico Mobile Newsroom reporter and co-anchors ABC-7’s weekend evening newscasts.

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