The final stage in the renaming of a creek running through Linn County was completed on Friday, as the U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved the changing the name from Squaw Creek to Wanatee Creek. The new name is in honor of the late Jean Adeline Morgan Wanatee, an artist and advocate for the rights of Native Americans and women.
The county began the renaming process last September when the Linn County Conservation Board changed the name of Squaw Creek Park to Wanatee Park. The word “squaw” has been commonly used as a demeaning way to refer to Indigenous women. In recent years, many place names incorporating the word have been changed.
Two months later, the Board of Supervisors approved the name changes for roads after holding public hearings. The board requested a name change for the creek in support of and in coordination with the other name changes.
“This is a great day for Linn County,” Supervisor Stacey Walker said in a news release announcing the board’s decision to approve the name change. “We’re honored to have played a small role in the process to discontinue use of a derogatory term, replacing it with a name that pays tribute to an icon and honors the rich heritage of the native peoples of America.”
Wanatee, pronounced Whon’-uh-tee, was born on the Meskwaki Indian Settlement in Tama in 1910. She was a “role model and advocate” in Iowa and in the country for women’s rights, according to the Iowa Department of Human Rights.
A Meskwaki language specialist, Wanatee was a resource for the Smithsonian Institute and served on the Governor’s Advisory Committee. Wanatee was also a member of the Iowa Arts Council’s artist-in-the-schools program and chair of the Meskwaki School Board. She was also an artist well known for her weaving of traditional yarn belts.
She was the first woman representative in her local powwow association and was the first woman elected to the Meskwaki Tribal Council. She served two four-year terms on the council.
According to The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa, Wanatee “worked tirelessly and effectively for the rights of American Indians and for the rights of women — particularly minority women. She believed that American Indian children should be educated in local public schools under tribal control rather than sent to government boarding schools far from their families, and through her work as a tribal council member and on state and national committees, she helped win that right.”
She was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993, becoming the first Native American selected for the honor. Wanatee died in October 1996 at the age of 85.
A number of groups were involved in the name change, including the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, the state archeologist, Iowa State Historical Society, Tallgrass Archeology and the Board of Supervisors. Cedar Rapids and Marion city councils passed resolutions of support at the request of Linn County Conservation.