Native American activists are attacking an Olympic landmark in the Sierras
If you’re from Northern California, you might have spent time at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. It is one of America’s most beautiful mountain areas.
Now, though, the leftists have Squaw Valley in their crosshairs, for they’re claiming that the word “squaw” is a pejorative that must be stricken from the English language. Not only is this out-of-control cultural Marxism, it’s factually wrong. As with so many things that leftists advocate, it comes from a place of ignorance.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Thursday that the Squaw Valley resort, to show its woke credentials, is discussing a name change. It’s been pushed into this discussion because a leftist organization called the American Indian Movement claims that the word “squaw” refers solely to a woman’s sexual organs, to prostitutes, or to other loose women.
This is not a new argument and goes back at least as far as 1999. In a 1999 article published at the Native Web article, Marge Bruchac, “an alnobaskwa, an Abenaki woman” and currently an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, challenged the linguistic premise behind this name-change movement.
Bruchac wrote that activists were wrong when they defined “squaw” negatively. Instead, she said, it is an ordinary word that means “woman.” The activist view demeans the word and, by demeaning the word, demeans the generations of Native American women who were called “squaws” without any pejorative intent:
Squaw is NOT an English word. It IS a phoenetic rendering of an Algonkian word that does NOT translate to “a woman’s private parts.” The word “squaw” - as “esqua,” “squa,” “skwa,” “skwe” and other variants - traditionally means the totality of being female, not just the female anatomy. The word has been interpreted by modern activists as a slanderous assault against Native American women. But traditional Algonkian speakers, in both Indian and English, still say words like “nidobaskwa” = a female friend, “manigebeskwa” = woman of the woods, or “Squaw Sachem” = female chief. When Abenaki people sing the Birth Song, they address “nuncksquassis” = “little woman baby.”
During the contact period, northeastern American Indian people taught the colonists the word “squaw,” and whites incorporated it into their speech. English observers described women’s medicinal plants such as “squaw vine” and “squaw root,” among many others. There are rumors about the word’s usage as an insult by French fur traders among western tribes who were not Algonkian speakers. But the insult was in the usage, not in the original word.
Any word can hurt when used as a weapon. Banning the word will not erase the past, and will only give the oppressors power to define our language. What words will be next? Pappoose? Sachem? Pow Wow? If we accept the slander, and internalize the insult, we discredit our female ancestors who felt no shame at hearing the word spoken. To ban indigenous words discriminates against Native people and their languages. Are we to be condemned to speaking only the “King’s English?” What about all the words from other Native American languages?
Bruchac was attacked for putting her imprimatur on a racist pejorative so she vigorously defended herself:
I have been repeatedly misquoted, misunderstood, insulted, defamed, and physically threatened by people who see my name associated with the word "squaw" and assume I am their enemy. I have received astonishingly vivid insults and physical threats, from people who refused to believe that "squaw" could have originated in an Algonkian language, or that it could ever have had any meaning but a pejorative one. Many people seem to believe that Europeans invented the word, and placed it on maps all over the country, with the sole intent of insulting Native women. It is even more absurd, in retrospect, to realize that some writers have been willing to hurl far worse threats than "squaw" at me, simply because I chose to investigate the history behind the problem, and the process by which the insulting meaning has come to predominate. One writer declared that from now on she would call me "Vagina" instead of "Marge," and suggested I have "squaw" branded on my forehead. And this was only the mildest of insults, compared to the profanity and physical threats I received. If we are trying to end the use of "squaw" as an insult, why must we insult each other with it?
One can only imagine the insults that would be hurled at Bruchac’s argument in today’s fraught environment.
Bruchac’s point, which only someone stupid or willfully blind could miss, was that the word “squaw” was never a pejorative in Native American languages. Pretending that it’s a bad word debases its original and intended meaning. If place names are disrespectful, Bruchac supports changing them, as we all would. However, if “squaw” refers only to a place of women (as the original 1850s name for Squaw Valley did), that meaning should be respected and preserved.
Sadly, today’s cancel culture mob is in no mood to listen to either facts or reason. Expect the venerable Squaw Valley to get some new name. May I suggest the Skiing Place Autonomous Zone or SPAZ?