Central Iowa creek named after a slur officially changed Thursday


Katie Titus/Iowa State Daily

The creek pictured here, formerly known as Squaw Creek, has officially been renamed to Ioway Creek after more than a year of waiting for approval from the federal government. 

Ashley Tibbs

A 42-mile-long creek that passes through three Iowa counties received a new name Thursday. 

The U.S. Board of Geographic Names officially approved the change from Squaw Creek to Ioway Creek. “Squaw” has historically been used as an ethnic and often sexual slur directed at Native American women.

“Individuals of Native American descent have protested the name of this stream beginning at least in the 1990s, and it is known the current name has an offensive connotation,” Ames resident Jasmine Martin wrote in their application to change the creek’s name in 2019. 

The name change came more than a year after the Story County Board of Supervisors and the Ames City Council agreed to recommend changing the name to Ioway Creek, rejecting Martin’s proposal of Story Creek. 

Board member Linda Murken was surprised it took so long to accept the name change.

“I had pretty much given up hope because it had been so long,” Murken said. 

She said the process likely took a year because the U.S. Board of Geographic Names waited until it had a large number of requests to accept before meeting. 

Murken reached out to the state’s archaeologist’s office, which provided contact information for 60 tribal historic preservation officers who preserve tribal history as designated officials by federally recognized tribes.  

She said she received dozens of replies in favor of a name change. The Board also received input from residents in Story, Boone and Hamilton counties; most were in favor of a name change. 

Murken said they eventually settled on Ioway as the creek’s new name because the Ioway are understood to have been one of the earliest tribes to live in central Iowa. Many of the tribal historic preservation officers had also suggested the name. 

Director of Iowa State’s American Indian studies department Sebastian Braun praised the work of all involved in the process, including Story County commissioners and the city of Ames. 

“Everybody did the right thing,” Braun said. “Tribal consultation is important and, unfortunately, not always enacted. This process is an example of how issues can be solved through active consultation.” 

He also provided his overall opinion on the change. 

“I am glad the creek has been renamed, and it will now honor the Ioway nation, and hopefully people will think about their relationship to and their presence on this land, in the past and today,” Braun said. 

Board of Supervisors Chair Lisa Heddens and Vice Chair Latifah Faisal were also both pleased by the change.

“The previous name has a painful and traumatic history of being used against indigenous women,” Faisal said. “The renaming tells me there is a willingness to see the world from other perspectives. It is a tiny validation of the experience of Native peoples.”

Heddens agreed.

“When this was initially brought before the supervisors for discussion, I had several constituents contact me stating they were in support of changing the name of the creek,” Heddens said. 

The name change will impact the three counties the creek passes through: Boone, Hamilton and Story. The next step, according to Murken, is for local officials to begin updating signage and other physical changes; the federal government will be in charge of updating maps. 

Murken also provided a more personal observation of the name change. She described springs spent with her grandmother at the creek, hunting for mushrooms and learning the names of the flowers that grew there. 

“Because of my memories, I thought I might feel some regrets at the name change, but now that it’s happened, I’ve realized that having the name changed will not cause my memories to fade, and I will never again have to say a creek name that I was no longer proud of.”