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SQUAW -Facts on the Eradication of the "S" Word

American Indian women and men all around the United States and Canada reject the use of the word squaw in reference to American Indian women. The word has been imposed on our culture by European Americans and appears on hundreds of geographic place names. Suzan Shown Harjo brought the issue to national attention on the Oparh Winfrey Show back in 1992. Since that time projects to eliminate the use of the wordon geographic sites have formed in Minnesota (Dawn Litzau and Angelene Losh), in Arizona (Delena Waddle and Seipe Flood), in California (Stormy Ogden), and in Iowa (Fawn Stubben). Many other states are forming groups to eradicate the use of the word from geographic place names and women's sports teams.

  1. When people argue that the word squaw appears in the dictionary, remind them that the word is also identified as derogatory. The Thesaurus of Slang lists the term squaw as a synonym for prostitute, harlot, hussy, and floozy.

  2. When people argue that the word originates in American Indian language point out that:

    • In the Algonquin languages the word squaw means vagina.

    • In the Mohawk language the word otsikwaw means female genitalia. Mohawk women and men found that early European fur traders shortened the word to squaw because that represented what they wanted from Mohawk women.

    • Although scholarship traces the word to the Massachusset Indians backin the 1650s, the word has different meanings (or may not exist at all)in hundreds of other American Indian languages. This claim also assumes that a European correctly translated the Massachusset language to English--that he understood the nuances of Indian speech.

    • Attitudes of white supremacy account for the need of separate identifying terms such as squaw and buck. In order to justify the taking of the land, American Indian women and men had to be labled with dehumanizing terms. Europeans and European Americans spreadthe use of the word as they moved westward across the continent.

  3. When people say "it never used to bother Indian women to be called squaw, respond with the following questions and statement.

    • Were American Indian women of people ever asked? Have you ever asked an American Indian woman, man, or child how they feel about the word? (Do not say the word yourself, simply call it the "s" word) then state that it has always been used to insult American Indian women.

  4. When people ask "why now?" explain that:

    • Through communication and education American Indian people have come to understand the derogatory meaning of the word. American Indian women claim the right to define ourselves as women and we reject the offensive term squaw.