In the Blog

Squaw is still Square

November 25th, 2008     by Elle E.     Comments

What’s in a name? Well, in the case of BC’s Square Lake, a bunch of racism, sexism and half-assed attempts to change.

Sign showing peeling stickers covering what was “Squaw Lake.” The Tyee

Over at The Tyee James Ward has been exploring the use of the word Squaw as a place name in BC Parks. He first wrote about it in March, and then again last week. Unfortunately, eight months later, nothing much has changed.

For those who don’t know, “squaw” is a bastardized pronunciation and spelling of the beautiful Algonquin word iskwew (pronounced es-kway-ew), which simply means woman. But somewhere along the way, as multilingual Turtle Island was forced to become mainly English-speaking, “squaw” became the ugly, common term used to refer to an Aboriginal woman, regardless of her indigenous heritage. - James Ward, The Tyee, March/08

He points out that in response to the request of Native groups, the BC government changed the name of a trout known as Squawfish to Northern Pikeminnow. Then in 2000, the government agreed to remove the word Squaw from the official place name registry.

But, in 2006, the name Squaw Lake was “officially” changed to Square Lake, meaning the registry entry changed, and stickers were pasted over the signs. Ward reports that some are peeling off. Square? Really? Can’t we do better than that?

Over at The Tyee, some commenters have suggested that the historical name, Squaw Lake, should remain, but with interpretive signage explaining the oppressive nature of the words.

Hmmm. I can see how we wouldn’t want to erase histories of racism, but it seems to me that they might change the name to something that actually honours Aboriginal women, and then put up signs acknowledging the context.

It’s great to see that Ward doesn’t shy away from speaking out about this issue just because he is not a woman:

…this society has ascribed the word to Aboriginal women only. Therefore, the minister could never feel the confusion, shame, and anger that Aboriginal men and boys feel when this barbarous word is thrown at Aboriginal women in their lives. Nor would he understand the pain of Aboriginal women who are impacted by this dark word. Still, if he were a sympathetic man, then just maybe he and his staff at BC Parks would come around to do the right thing. - James Ward, The Tyee, Nov/08

Talk to BC Parks here: parkinfo @ victoria1 .gov .bc .ca

Tags: miscellaneous, race and racism

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