Phoenix to change ‘Robert E. Lee,’ ‘Squaw Peak’ street names

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Phoenix officials are set to begin the process of changing the names of two streets, voting to rename Squaw Peak Drive and Robert E. Lee Street, shown here on Thursday, July 2, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX (AP) — Phoenix officials are set to begin the process of changing the names of two streets — one seen as demeaning to indigenous Native American women and the other glorifying the Confederacy.

The Phoenix City Council voted unanimously this week to rename Squaw Peak Drive and Robert E. Lee Street. In a letter to the city manager last month, Mayor Kate Gallego and Councilwoman Thelda Williams wrote squaw is a “demeaning and degrading word.” Meanwhile, Lee represents historical institutions of racism and slavery, they said.

Patti Hibbeler, CEO of the Phoenix Indian Center, said “the s-word” is long overdue for removal.

“The s-word continues to be one that is highly derogatory and of the sexual nature to American Indian women, and one that continues to be used as a negative tool, as a weapon, to make us feel less than human,” Hibbeler said.

The initiative to rename Squaw Peak Drive has been an ongoing issue for years. Some residents opposed the change, saying they would have to change addresses on letterhead, bills and other important documents. But in 2017, the council approved a measure that would give the city the right to re-name derogatory street names without residents’ consent.

Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who voted against the 2017 policy, said he doesn’t oppose these street name changes, but the city should cover fees for residents affected.

“I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault in that neighborhood or on that street that this has happened to them,” DiCiccio said. “And I don’t think it’s fair for the city to be asking them to pay for any changes or anything else like that.”

The city Planning and Development Department will now gather comment from the U.S. Postal Service and city departments like street transportation, police and fire. The department must also mail an official first notice to affected residents and property owners in the next three weeks.

There will be at least four virtual public comment meetings, two related to each street. The official move to change could get on the council’s agenda as early as October.

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