'Taint Easy Erasing 'Squaw' From Our History!
Oregon has at least 170 natural features named squaw and there some 893 nationwide. While tribal and government officials throughout the country agree the word is offensive and needs to go, efforts to eradicate it from the U.S. map have met with obstacles. Major delays arise from tribal disagreements on what the new name should be.
Roger Paine, executive secretary of the U.S. Geographic Names Board states there is really no one word everyone can agree upon to replace “squaw”. He cites a survey of American Indian tribes conducted by the Board showed that although the majority wanted the squaw name to go, few were in favor of changing the name to a single pronounceable English alternative. Instead each tribe wanted a word from their specific language to preserve their cultural heritage. In Linn County, Oregon Squaw Butte and Squaw Creek are now Kwiskwis Butte and Latiwi Creek – words from the Molalla Tribe.
The board thinks tribes or another community group need to propose one word and stick with it throughout the renaming process. One area in Maine appears to have changed its “squaw” names all at once. In Piscataquis County where moose are said to outnumber people, commissioners voted to satisfactorily go from “squaw” to “moose”.
In many other quarters of the country, tribes have agreed to a suitable name change only to be met with strong opposition. Arizona is a prime example of this type of resistance when Governor Janet Napolitano changed the name Squaw Peak to Lori Piestewa Peak, in honor of the young Hopi woman who was the first Native female ever killed during military action while she was on active duty in Iraq.
Elsewhere, things have gone more smoothly. In Colorado, the endangered squaw fish is now the Colorado pike minnow. In Glacier National Park, Squaw Mountain is now Dancing Lady Mountain and the Old Squaw has been replaced with Stands Alone Woman Peak.
The controversy began with a TV appearance in 1992 by Susan Shown Harjo, writer, Native activist, and current “frybread” opponent when she said the slur comes from a Mohawk word for female genitalia. Linguists maintain the two words sound similar but they are not related. ”Squaw” is a Massachusetts word meaning “woman” and was used as early as 1663 in a translation of the bible to mean just that – woman - according to Smithsonian linguist, Ives Goddard.
Native women in Oregon have begun to refer to their surrounding land forms using just the first initial – so Squaw River is the “S” River. Preferably the “S” River over the “B” River – the current derogatory replacement word for “woman”.
This story has been edited for content and length from a February 19th AP article in The Arizona Republic bylined Rukmini Callimachi.
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