Ban "Squaw" Place Names in Wisconsin
Squaw Bay Name Might Change:
Renaming 'Squaw' Sites Proves Touchy in Oregon
By Eli Sanders
New York Times,
December 11, 2004
Sisters, Oregon - It took two years for members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to persuade Oregon lawmakers to remove the word "squaw" from the state's maps, which are filled with places like Squaw Meadow, Squaw Flat and, here in central Oregon, Squaw Creek.
Figuring out what to rename these places has proved more complicated. Around the Warm Springs reservation and the nearby town of Sisters, three years of pointed debate among local tribal leaders has produced 42 alternatives to Squaw Creek in three native languages.
Many of the suggestions are hard for English speakers and even some Indians to pronounce, like "ixwutxp." It means "blackberry" in the Wasco language. Other suggested Indian names are spelled using a lowercase "l" with a slash through it, signifying a guttural "tla" sound that does not exist in English.
"It's really gotten out of hand here," said Louie Pitt, director of government affairs and planning for the confederated tribes, which occupy the 670,000-acre reservation.
"Squaw" originated in a branch of the Algonquin language, where it meant simply "woman," but it turned into a slur on the tongues of white settlers, who used it to refer derisively to Indian women in general or a part of their anatomy in particular. The settlers liked the word so much that there are now more than 170 springs, gulches, bluffs, valleys, and gaps in this state called "squaw." All must be renamed under a 2001 law that was enacted after two members of the confederated tribes persuaded the Legislature that the word was offensive to many American Indians and should be erased from maps. But only 13 places have been renamed so far. It is a problem familiar to Indians and government officials in several states where attempts to outlaw "squaw" have been caught in a thicket of bureaucratic, historical and linguistic snares.
In Maine, one frustrated county changed all "squaw" names to "moose" in one fell swoop to save on hassle, while in Minnesota, disgruntled residents suggested new names like Politically Correct Creek and Politically Correct Bay. But often the stumbling block has been questions over what Indians themselves would prefer instead of "squaw."
The debate echoes those from decades ago over places named with slurs for blacks and Japanese. In 1963 and 1974, respectively, offending slurs were replaced on federal maps with "negro" and "Japanese" (about a dozen of the "negro" names have since been changed). Concerns of other groups have been addressed in a more piecemeal fashion, and not always with the same result.
In the early 1990's, after two years of consideration, Yellowstone National Park's Chinaman Spring was changed to Chinese Spring. In 2001, American ichthyologists adopted a new name for the jewfish, the Goliath grouper, citing the precedent of an earlier change, from squawfish to pikeminnow. But the United States Board on Geographic Names declined to rename Jewfish Creek in the Florida Keys because there was little local sentiment for doing so. "Geographic names are parts of language," said Roger Payne, executive secretary for the names board and a veteran of the nation's long and frequently ethnically charged place name debates. "Language evolves. Meanings change. This seems to be the case with 'squaw.' "
But no easy universal solution is possible with "squaw," Mr. Payne said, because among Indian leaders, "there was endless disagreement on the word it could be changed to."
That is precisely the problem with Squaw Creek. The list of 42 replacement words is causing considerable anxiety here, even among non-Indian residents who support the renaming of the creek, which drains out of glaciers in the nearby Cascade Mountains before running through Sisters on the way to the Deschutes River.
"I think there's one or two on the list that appear to be sort of pronounceable, but many of them are not," said Eileen Stein, city manager of Sisters. One of the suggestions more easily pronounced by English speakers, Itch Ish Kiin, which is another name for the Sahaptin tribe, can come out sounding an awful lot like Itchy Skin, she noted. "People don't want to live near Itchy Skin Creek," Ms. Stein said.
So the debate goes. Mr. Pitt of the Confederated Tribes dismisses those concerns as "ethnocentric," saying ease of pronunciation for English speakers is "not one of our criteria." But he also admits a measure of scorn for the long list, which he sarcastically calls the "pan-Indian solution."
If the controversy seems a bit overwrought, Mr. Pitt said, it is borne of a painful dislocation from his ancestors' heritage, with many Indian site names long forgotten. "What is the name of that creek?" he asked himself, frustration filling his voice. "It has a name, what is it?"
Elders in the tribes have been unable to remember what the local Indians used to call the creek, Mr. Pitt said. There has even been some debate about which tribe first controlled the creek, hence the three languages vying for naming rights.
Five other states have tried to take care of the "squaw" problem through legislative action. In 1995, Mr. Payne said, Minnesota became the first and has now renamed all 20 of its offending places (having rebuffed the Politically Correct Creek contingent).
Maine, Montana, Oklahoma, and South Dakota followed suit, but all still have work to do on their geographic lexicons.
Along the banks of Oregon's Squaw Creek, a resolution seems far off. In an interview there, Olivia Wallulatum, wearing traditional otter skin wraps around her long black braids and a dress adorned with small white cowrie shells, said she preferred the word "ayayat," which means "beautiful." Colleen Roba, who with Ms. Wallulatum lobbied the Legislature to pass the renaming law, said she liked "choosh," which means "water" and evokes the sound that Squaw Creek makes as it moves around ice-capped rocks and through a grove of pine trees in Creekside City Park in Sisters.
At Sisters City Hall, Ms. Stein, the city manager, said she just hoped that whatever the new name, it would not "create a hardship" for businesses in the area named after Squaw Creek, or for local tongues.
Playing The Rename Game In Monona
Susan Lampert Smith
Daniel Guilfoil appeared Monday night at the Monona City Council meeting to ask that the city request that the name of Lake Monona's Squaw Bay be changed.
"I've been disturbed about that term for a long time," said Guilfoil, a retired Edgewood College professor who lives just around the bend from the bay.
Minnesota and five other states have passed laws to rename locations with the word "squaw" in them because many Indians consider it an insulting name for female genitalia. Wisconsin hasn't, but Guilfoil is petitioning his representatives to at least change the name of the bay.
I wondered how the bay got its name in the first place.
Monona historian Dorothy Haines said she's heard it goes back to the Ho-Chunk wife of Abraham Wood, who built a cabin for Madison's first white settlers, the Pecks, in 1836. Wood eventually moved on, but his wife stayed behind in a cabin near the bay.
Monona Ald. Kathy Thomas said her in-laws, who built as Monona was being settled in the 1930s, said Ho-Chunk Indians were still returning to their villages there. They heard that Frost Woods Beach along the bay was where Ho-Chunk women went to give birth.
Thomas said she wants to hear what Indian people in Monona think. She noted that the city consulted with local Ho-Chunk before naming Ahuska Park, which is along the Beltline at the site of a former Ho-Chunk village.
"I think we need more information," Thomas said. "I don't think most of the community has thought that much about it."
Haines notes that Monona could have a whole lot of renaming to do. Winnequah is believed to be a condensed version of "Winnebago squaw," and it's now the name of a major road, a park and a school. Interestingly, the tribe changed its official name to Ho-Chunk about a decade ago because Winnebago, the word given to them by other tribes, means "stinky" and refers to the tribe's location on the stinky waters of Lake Winnebago.
Renaming the bay would actually be the job of the obscure Wisconsin Geographic Names Council, which meets just once a year, and thus moves about as slowly as lake ice melts in winter.
So we have plenty of time to think of new names.
Stinky does describe the bay in the summer when the lake weeds bloom and die, but Stinky Water Bay would kill property values. Abandoned Wife Bay sounds a little desolate, but Single Woman Bay sounds better, in a Bikini Beach kind of way. Of course, you don't want to think about bikinis and childbirth in the same thought, so Birthing Beach Bay is probably a non-starter.
We could just give up and do what disgruntled citizens in northern Minnesota did when faced with the problem: They suggested renaming it Politically Correct Bay.
Contact Susan Lampert Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-6121.
Date: Thu, 23 Dec 2004 15:47:07 -0600
From: "Falk, Kathleen" Falk@co.dane.wi.us
Subject: RE: squaw bay in lake monona
To: 'daniel j guilfoil' email@example.com
Dear Mr. Guilfoil:
Thank you for forwarding a copy of your message to Supervisor Graf regarding >a proposed name change for Squaw Bay in Lake Monona.
I will contact Supervisor Graf about this issue of changing the name of this bay, which I understand is deeply offensive to many native people, and will also ask the Dane County Lakes and Watershed Commission to consider this for its 2005 agenda.
Thanks again for contacting me.
Date: Sun, 12 Dec 2004 15:18:42 -0600
From: daniel j guilfoil firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: squaw bay in lake monona
Dear Mr. Graf,
The New York Times yesterday portrayed the efforts in the state of Oregon to remove the name Squaw from its maps, and the difficulties such efforts entail. The term squaw has been outlawed since it refers derogatorily to the anatomy of native women. Many such efforts are in process throughtout the US and I believe it would be appropriate to do the same here in dane county and remove the name squaw from the bay which abuts the city of Monona.
Please consider asking the dane county board to petition the DNR to remove the term Squaw from the maps for the state of Wisconsin. I have asked the Monona city council to pursue a similar petition and Alder Wood has written to the DNR about the naming rights of navigable waters in Wisconsin.
The Journal-Sentinel had a recent article portraying the efforts of native peoples to remove the name throughout the state. I would hope we could join this effort to civilize our names for places and not use words which are deeply offensive to many native people.
5306 tonyawatha tr
monona, wi 53716
Place names drop 'squaw' from titles
BY SHERRY DEVLIN
Of The Missoulian
MISSOULA, Montana - Growing up, she would hear the word on television, most often in Hollywood Westerns. She knew, without being told, that it was not a nice word.
Always, she remembers, it felt like somebody was saying something mean to her.
"But as a younger person, you don't have the power to make a change; you don't have the power to influence," said Carol Juneau, who is a Democratic state representative from Browning. "That 's why the leadership needs to step in at certain times."
When Juneau was elected to the Montana Legislature, she remembered the hateful word and knew that, finally, she had the power to make the needed change. So she introduced House Bill 412 and began schooling nonnative legislators in the influence of a single word.
"Squaw," Juneau said, "is a real hurtful word and a derogatory word. It never meant anything nice. I always viewed it as somebody trying to belittle me, or somebody trying to make fun of me."
That the word also was attached to places on the landscape only deepened the humiliation. Squaw Peak. Squaw Butte. The Old Squaw. Even Squaw Teat and Squaws Tit.
"To put a racist, sexist, pornographic name on a mountain or a stream is like putting a slur on a church or cathedral; that's how demeaning and fundamentally disrespectful it is," said Diane Sands, the former state legislator who first tried - two years before Juneau succeeded - to persuade the Legislature to remove the word "squaw" from every geographic site in Montana.
At its origin in the Algonquin language, squaw was a more neutral reference to an Indian woman, Sands said. But in recent centuries, the usage became increasingly derogatory of Indian women and even became a reference to female genitalia.
Sands knew the word's hateful connotations from childhood, growing up in Fort Peck. But she never knew how sharp and lasting the pain could be until she heard the Indian women weeping during committee hearings on House Bill 412.
Each woman had a story, and oftentimes many stories of embarrassment and shame. They wept, though, not for themselves, but because their daughters and granddaughters had stories of their own.
The 1999 Legislature passed the renaming bill with relatively little controversy. "It was just perhaps time in Montana that this happened," Juneau said.
"I was really proud," said Carol Williams, the Missoula Democrat who co-sponsored the bill. "It said a lot about Carol Juneau and about Montana wanting to start a new century with better feelings between natives and nonnatives."
Only Minnesota acted before Montana to take the word "squaw" off its mountains, creeks and coulees. Minnesota had 18 such sites. Montana, by the latest count, had 76 - including 24 different Squaw creeks and six Squaw buttes.
No one imagined that it would take so long or would be so hard to find new, more respectful names for Montana's "s-word" places.
"What we hoped, after the bill passed, was that there would be a lot of people coming forth to ask that certain places be given certain names." Juneau said.
But relatively few people or groups have proposed new names. Maybe the paperwork and process scared some away; it can take a year or more to gain approval from all the required state and federal agencies. Maybe there wasn't enough publicity. Maybe the Legislature left too much work to a volunteer committee with no staff or budget.
The committee does not recommend names but, rather, accepts proposals from groups, individuals and governments. It is up to the proponents to show that the community supports their idea, and that the name is appropriate for the site.
Since the legislation passed, just six of Montana's 76 sites have made it all the way through the process - from community to volunteer committee to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, back to the state for another round of review, then back to the U.S Board for final approval.
In Glacier National Park, Squaw Mountain is now Dancing Lady Mountain and The Old Squaw is Stands Alone Woman Peak. Near the upper end of Rock Creek, in Granite County, Squaw Rock Campground is - by order of the U.S. Forest Service - Stony Creek Campground. And, at the request of Indian children in the after-school Wakina Sky Learning Circle, a gulch outside of Helena is now Wakina Sky Gulch.
One other name has been approved by Juneau's committee and awaits federal review. In Lincoln County, history students at Libby High School suggested that Squaw Creek be renamed in honor of Glenn Leckrone, a lifelong resident of the county who owned a cabin at the mouth of the creek and knew the drainage, inch by inch.
Several other proposals have proved controversial, or at least complicated.
In Hill County, the Fort Assiniboine Preservation Association asked that Squaw Butte and Squaw Coulee be renamed Indian Woman butte and coulee. The only problem was that the butte was privately owned, and the preservation association did not ask the landowner before filing for the name change.
The owner, whose ranch is incorporated as Squaw Butte Ranch, was not happy about what appeared to be an end run. So he asked that the butte revert to its historic (1880-1902) name of Sioux Butte. A tug of war ensued.
Eventually, the House Bill 412 Committee took a position of neutrality. The state sided with the landowner. And the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which has the final say on such things, sided with the preservation association.
The sites are now, officially, Indian Woman Butte and Indian Woman Coulee.
"The thing you need to remember is this really isn't something that registers in a big way on anyone's radar screen until somebody wants to change a name," said Don Howard, the state's liaison to the U.S. Board and a member of the renaming committee. "Then it can become quite emotional."
The renaming of Missoula's Squaw Peak has taken so many twists and turns that committee members have trouble remembering what happened last.
At first, at the suggestion of a group of Indian women who once met at the mountain's base for a retreat, the peak was recommended for renaming as Sleeping Woman Mountain. The committee, in fact, tentatively approved the change.
Then a review by the Salish-Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee turned up the aboriginal name of "Ch-paa-qn," which was first thought to mean shining peak. Maybe, some said, the name should be Shining Peak.
Then further review revealed a more accurate translation: gray, treeless mountaintop.
Then came the Culture Committee's request that the mountain bear the Salish name, not its English translation. So, earlier this year, the renaming committee tentatively recommended Ch-paa-qn as the peak's new name.
But some committee members wonder if the mountain shouldn't carry the English "peak" or "mountain" after Ch-paa-qn - "so people in Massachusetts know what kind of place it even is," said Dale Floerchinger, a cartographer and the Forest Service's representative on the group.
Ch-paa-qn, pronounced "ch-paquin," likely would be approved by the national board if the renaming committee added a qualifying "peak" or "mountain," Floerchinger said.
Other proposals from the Salish Culture Committee, though, may be too difficult to pronounce - and the U.S. Board insists that new place names be pronounceable.
In Lake County south of Swan Lake, the Culture Committee wants to rename Squaw Creek to its native N-pa-a N-shi-ye-tkw, meaning Burned-over-Ground Creek. South of Lolo, in Missoula County, the tribe wants to rename another Squaw Creek as Sn-tn-tnm-sqa N-shi-yet-kw, meaning Horse-Being-Reined-Back Creek.
"It's going to take us awhile to work through this," Floerchinger said. "Our committee may not even have the authority to rename sites that lie entirely on private land (as does the Squaw Creek south of Lolo). And the national board has, in the past, disapproved of names that are not pronounceable."
But everyone on the House Bill 412 Committee is 100 percent committed to the renaming effort, he emphasized. "All these vile names are on our maps," he said. "They are just evil."
Bill to ban "squaw" place names endorsed by WI Senate Committee
Contact your State Senator to vote for SB-24 (list at http://treaty.indigenousnative.org/wileg.html ) The bill is by Senators Jauch, Plache, Moen, George and Welch; cosponsored by Representatives Musser, Ryba, Miller, Powers, Sherman, Sykora, Boyle, Williams, Coggs, Sinicki, Morris-Tatum and Riley.
Committee endorses bill to prohibit use of "squaw" in place names
February 13, 2002
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin lakes, rivers, creeks and roads that include the word " squaw" would have their names changed under a bill unanimously endorsed by a legislative committee Wednesday.
" No one can claim that there is anything positive about the word squaw. It is a word that connotes disrespect and insult, " Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, the bill' s author, told the Senate Committee on Universities, Housing and Government Operations.
The bill would ban use of the word, which is a derogatory term for Indian women, he said.
Jauch said there are at least 40 place names in Wisconsin containing the word, though some counties and local governments already have eliminated it from place names.
Municipalities in Bayfield County joined with the National Park Service to rename Squaw Bay near the Apostle Islands to Mawikwe Bay, which means weeping woman, he said.
And Sawyer County recently renamed five bodies of water that had the word " squaw" in their names.
Jauch said Maine, Minnesota, Montana and Oregon have adopted similar bans on the word:
Wisconsin Legislature: http://www.legis.state.wi.us
Idaho tribes try to ban the S-word