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Initiative Aims to Eliminate Offensive and Racist Geographical Titles from Washington State

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"As I was going through that, I was like wow, this is crazy."

Washington state Sen. Pramila Jayapal (D-Seattle) is making headlines for her controversial initiative that seeks to review geographic names in the state that are deemed to be ethnically or racially offensive and begin the process of changing them.

Jayapal's initiative, which is being carried out in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources, is working towards changing the names of creeks, lakes, valleys, canyons and other geographical locations that may be considered as racist or insensitive to residents from various backgrounds and ethnicities, according to KIRO-TV. The state senator's efforts have resulted thus far in identifying 48 places throughout the state with names that could be considered to be inappropriate.

When Jayapal helped persuade the government the change the name of Coon Lake in Chelan County to Howard Lake last year in honor of an African-American prospector, she became curious about how many other offensive geographical names existed within her state, according to the Seattle Times.

"As I was going through that, I was like wow, this is crazy,” Jayapal told the Seattle Times. "I wonder how many other names there are."

After she and the DNR discovered the 48 names listed in the initiative — which included such titles as Negro Creek, Squaw Lake, Redman Slough, Chinamans Hat and Jim Crow Creek — she felt convicted to initiate change within her state.

"We’ve never done anything like [this] before, so I have no idea how this is going to go," DNR Deputy Supervisor Kyle Blum told the Times.

Jayapal and the DNR hope that the first round of names will be changed this year after they file a form with the Committee on Geographic Names later this month, according to KIRO.

Follow Kathryn Blackhurst (@kablackhurst) on Twitter

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