Squaw

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Squaw is a word that refers to an Indigenous woman in the United States or Canada.

Many Native Americans say this a bad word because people have used it in racist and woman-hating ways. According to the editor of the Navajo Times Tom Aviso, "squaw" is the worst word used on Native American women. [1]

Origin[change | change source]

The word "squaw" comes from the Algonquian languages, where it means "woman."[2] In the Massachusset language, the word is "squàw." In Cree, it is "iskwew."

Some people say that the word "squaw" comes from a Mohawk word that means vagina. However, many linguists, for example Ives Goddard of the Smithsonian, thinks this is not so and "squaw" came from the regular Massachusetts word "squa," for "woman."[2]

Current use[change | change source]

Squaw is considered an offensive word because many non-Natives have used it to disrespect Native American and Aboriginal Canadian women.

Some people in Indigenous communities think "squaw" is offensive. According to members of the Nooksack Tribal Council, Native Americans in general see "squaw" as an insulting word.[3][4] Other Native Americans think the word should be reclaimed, meaning made a normal word again.[5]

The root of "squaw" is in some compound words in Algonquin languages that are spoken today: "nidobaskwa" means "female friend," "manigebeskwa" means "woman of the woods," and "Squaw Sachem" means "female chief."[5]

Historical use[change | change source]

European colonizers used the word to talk about Indigenous women.

When white colonists moved west, they used words like "squaw" even when they were talking about women whose tribes spoke languages different from Algonquian. It became a generic word.[6]

Stereotype[change | change source]

European men in the US and Canada were not respectful of Indigenous women. They used them for sex. When they called the women "squaw," they used it in a way that showed that they saw those women as sex objects and not human beings. Over time, the word "squaw" came to mean a woman who was dirty, sexually abused, violent, fit only for mindless work or some group of these.[1]

According to scholars, for example D. Francis and D. Merskin, the squaw is the second most common stereotype of Native American women. The most common is the Indian princess. The two stereotypes work as a pair. The princess was imagined as beautiful and sexually well-behaved. The squaw was imagined as ugly, dirty and sexually available.[1]

Scholars say white people stuck to the idea of the squaw so they could say American Indian culture was bad. They pretended the cultures were full of lazy men who forced women to do all the real work. That way, they could make it sound like wiping out the culture of Native Americans was a good thing.[1]

Name changes[change | change source]

People in the US and Canada are trying to change place names with the word "squaw" in it because they feel it is not respectful to Indigenous women. However, there are still many places where the word is in the name.

United States[change | change source]

  • In 2003, Squaw Peak in Phoenix, Arizona, was renamed Piestewa Peak to honor Pfc. Lori Piestewa,[5] the first Native American woman to die in combat in the Iraq War.
  • In 2015, the government of the city of Buffalo, NY, voted to change "Squaw Island" to "Unity Island" (Deyowenoguhdoh in the Seneca language).
  • In 2020, the government of Washington State agreed to change "Squaw Creek" back to "Páatstel Creek" because the Nooksack Tribal Council asked them to.[3][4]

Canada[change | change source]

  • In 1988, the Squaw Rapids Dam on the Saskatchewan River was renamed the E.B. Campbell Dam after an engineer.
  • On November 20, 2018, Killsquaw Lake in Saskatchewan - the site of a 19th century massacre of a group of Cree women - was renamed Kikiskitotawânawak Iskêwak, which, in Cree, means "we honor the women." This is important because missing and murdered Indigenous women is a big problem in Canada.

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Debra Merskin (2010). "The S-Word: Discourse, Stereotypes, and the American Indian Woman" (PDF). The Howard Journal of Communications. pp. 345–366. doi:10.1080/10646175.2010.519616. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ives Goddard (1997). "THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE WORD SQUAW" (PDF). News from Indian Country. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kie Relyea. "Nooksack Tribe convinces the state to change this creek's name because it's offensive". Bellingham Herald. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  4. 4.0 4.1 George Swanaset Jr. (May 23, 2019). "Washington State Geographic Name Change Application (form)". Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Vincent Schilling (March 23, 2017). "The Word Squaw: Offensive or Not?". Indian Country Today. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  6. Arlene Hirschfelder; Paulette F. Molin (February 22, 2018). "I is for Ignoble: Stereotyping Native Americans". Ferris University. Retrieved July 13, 2020.