By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
The prospect of changing the names of Wyoming landmarks to remove the word “squaw” brings sighs of relief from two Wyoming native culture experts.
Crystal C’Bearing of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office and Lynette St. Clair of Fort Washakie Schools both told the Cowboy State Daily they were happy to see the order remove the word from hundreds of dots landmark across the country.
The US Department of the Interior announced plans in February to change about 660 landmark names – including 43 in Wyoming – to incorporate the word “squaw”, pending a public comment period ending in late April.
“Historically, the word has always been used against Native women in a derogatory way,” said C’Bearing, deputy director of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office.
“The word allowed settlers to see Native women as less than human,” C’Bearing told the Cowboy State Daily, adding that this degradation through language, in her view, contributed to the anti-Native sentiments that were building. are manifested in the form of warfare and conflict between the tribesmen and the whites.
The story of a word
Originally an innocuous Algonquin word for “woman”, the term “squaw” evolved from its pre-1800s tribal usage into present-day English.
“Squaw” did not appear in Noah Webster’s “Compendious Dictionary” of 1806 or his “American Dictionary of the English Language” of 1828.
The half-Mohawk, half-Canadian writer E. Pauline Johnson, in her 1893 short story “A Red Girl’s Reasoning”, used the word “squaw” as a menacing insult comparable, in context, to the English word “whore”. .
In 1956, Webster defined the term as “a Native American woman.”
But just 10 years later, a full Webster had added a second definition reflecting a layer of farce: “Any woman: primarily humorous.”
Dictionary.com currently defines it as “a derogatory term used to refer to a North American Indian woman, especially a wife.”
C’Bearing said the attitudes surrounding the word are its actual context – not official definitions.
“I don’t believe any Indigenous woman would be proud to be called by that name,” she said, calling it a “tool of oppression” that “does not honor Indigenous women, and when the word is spoken, a negative image is instantly perceived that degrades and sexualizes Aboriginal women throughout history.
For Lynette St. Clair, the coordinator of Indian education in Fort Washakie schools, the use of the “squaw” is still relevant.
“(I remember) my grandmother being followed around stores in the early 60s and 70s, with the store clerk (saying) ‘Watch out for that squaw, she might steal something,'” St. Clair at the Cowboy State Daily. .
St. Clair is a member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and resident of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Both she and C’Bearing recalled instances where the term had been used against them in a derogatory way.
“No one,” C’Bearing said, “can tell me not to be offended by that name when it is still used to degrade and offend Native women today.”
C’Bearing’s tribal heritage is northern Arapaho and Lakota.
“It’s time to recognize the harmful connotation associated with the name and change it to one that represents and honors the people and characteristics of the land,” St. Clair said. “As Indigenous people, we recognize the lands as sacred places and ask that in the renaming process, community connection be prioritized to give these spaces the respect and honor the lands deserve.
Squaw Teats Buttes in Hot Springs County, Squaw Creek Road in Lander, and dozens of variations comprising the term are scattered across the Wyoming landscape.
But many commenters on the Cowboy State Daily’s Facebook page disagreed with the Interior Department’s plan.
“How ridiculous,” wrote one commenter. “Life is offensive… pull yourself together! What a tortured little world some people live in.
Others worried that the DOI was spending money on the signage change effort during a time of inflation, war, and energy shortages.
“Let’s move on to bigger things like oil drilling,” one comment read.
It was followed by the response: “With everything going on in the country and in the world, we are wasting time and resources on these crazy waking agendas! We need to defund this and all the other government waste and excess. I’m tired of my tax money being wasted! »
Other commentators have suggested that, even after the changes, locals will still call landmarks by their original names out of habit and tradition.