Drawing the line on offensive place names
By Thom Powell
They were a hardy bunch, but the early settlers were not always literate, and they definitely weren't politically correct. They doubtless used disparaging terms for females of all races, including their own. Yet, "squaw" was not meant to demean or offend when it was assigned to plants (squawberry, squawroot), places (Squawback Ridge, Squaw Butte), and people, male or female. Interestingly, a white man who took an Indian bride was a "squawman."
Which leads us to the present, and:
1) Who cares what the explorers thought or intended? What matters is what we think now.
2) Regardless of the origin or meaning of "squaw," it has become a disreputable word akin to "negress" or "Jewess." As far as I know, no place names use those words, so why should we retain "squaw"?
3) What's the point of calling something Indian Woman Mountain, Indian Woman Butte, or Indian Woman Creek? These are unoriginal and uninteresting names. They tell us nothing about the geographic features. I bet the only time "squaw" had any meaning was when something looked like a woman's part or reminded someone of sex. That's a stupid reason for keeping a "squaw" name.
As I've said before, let's give all these places their original Indian names. Or at least real Indian names. If they were named after a woman, let's identify her and use her name. But it's silly to keep these generic names for the sake of generic history. And doubly so since many Indians consider them offensive.
For recent uses of "squaw," see Sick Cartoonist Callahan Dies and "Sexy Squaws" at Neon Indian Concert. For more background on "squaw," see Disreputable History of "Squaw," "Squaw" on the Way Out, and Nothing Wrong with "Squaw"? For more on renaming places, see Changing Park Name = Guilt Trip? and Renaming Mt. Ranier.