PORTLAND – The word “squaw” finally disappeared from the names of all public places in Maine 11 years after state law aimed to remove the word deemed offensive by Native Americans from maps. But the owner of a private ski resort with the word in his name refuses to accompany him, saying it’s a tribute to the Native Americans.
The US Board on Geographic Names this summer approved name changes for half a dozen places in Aroostook County, northern Maine, which still contained a variation of the word “squaw,” which many Indians deem offensive and results in prostitute or whore.
“It’s unfortunate that it has taken 11 years,” said Wayne Mitchell, representative of the Penobscot Indian Nation in the Legislative Assembly. “I thought that as a civilization we were much more advanced than I guess we were then.”
The law does not affect Big Squaw Mountain Resort, perhaps the most famous place with the word in its title. And James Confalone has no plans to change the name of his small ski resort outside of Greenville.
Confalone insists that the legislature – and the Indians – have it all wrong.
He argued that the word squaw means Indian woman and only slowly became offensive after the early 1970s. Its ski area serves as a “monument” to Indian tribes in Maine, Confalone told The Associated Press
“The intention here is not to denigrate the Indians. The intention is to perpetuate the name, ”said Confalone, whose primary residence is in Florida.
The US Board on Geographic Names is an interagency group that approves all names on maps published by federal agencies, including the US Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Corps of Engineers, and the US Forest Service. The board approves 300 to 350 name changes or new names each year.
The board has dealt with a number of sensitive words over the years, said Lou Yost, the board’s executive secretary.
In 1963, he changed all geographic names containing the derogatory form of Negro, and in 1974, all names containing the disparaging form of Japanese were changed.
As for “squaw,” Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Oregon and Nebraska have passed legislation to change the geographic names containing the word, he said.
Twice in the 1990s, the council was asked to remove the word from all geographic names. But after two years of analysis, the council decided not to change the name universally because not all Native Americans saw it as derogatory, there was no one word replacement that everyone could relate to. ‘hear, and some Indian tribes have indicated that they would prefer to change the names themselves to the names in their language, Yost said.
In Maine, dozens of cities, mountains, lakes and other public places had their names changed after Governor Angus King signed a bill in 2000 requiring them to do so.
But no one expected it to take more than a decade to complete the task, said John Dieffenbacher-Krall, executive director of the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission. Some places have resisted name changes that have existed for generations, and Dieffenbacher-Krall has filed complaints against local and county boards dragging their feet to change the names of certain places.
Even so, having all the names changed is a good thing, he said.
“I think this is another step in recognizing the non-Indian population of the indigenous peoples of this land,” he said. “This is a positive step in improving relations between tribes and states. I think everyone wants to be treated with respect.
Confalone said the elimination of the word was a “revisionist story”. He said his dictionaries published before the 1970s did not qualify him as offensive.
Merriam-Webster Inc., publisher of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, defines the word as a Native American woman, or woman or bride, but also says it is both derogatory and offensive.
Although the word is now considered offensive, it hasn’t always been so, spokeswoman Meghan Lieberwirth said in an email. Researchers who have studied the issue agree that “squaw” first entered English in the 1600s, and that the original meaning of the word that gave rise to “squaw” was not considered offensive, a- she declared.