February 19, 2013

Bakery to rename squaw bread

Old Town Baking Company in Rancho Cucamonga to rename its squaw bread

By Neil NisperosA bakery in this city is changing the name of its popular squaw bread after some Native Americans deemed it offensive.

Old Town Baking Company owners have received emails and Facebook messages in recent weeks demanding that the name be changed.

Native American groups consider "squaw" a deeply derogatory term, said USC professor David Treuer, an acclaimed novelist who writes Native American-themed literature. Treuer said he was taken aback when he saw the bread during a recent visit to a local grocery store.

"I saw the bread and I was a little stunned," said David Treuer, who is from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Indians in Minnesota.

"I know it's a type of bread, and they're not the only company that makes that bread. I was sort of surprised to see a bread with that name in the bakery aisle of the local supermarket. It is universally understood, particularly with native people as a slur. It has been used as a slur for a couple hundred years."

Treuer sent an email to Old Town Baking Company officials on Feb. 8 informing them of the offensive nature of the word.

Treuer's brother Anton, a professor of Native American studies at Bemidji State University in Minnesota, created a Facebook page calling on Old Town Baking Company to change the name of the bread.

A debate soon erupted on the Old Town Baking Company Facebook page over the term. The commentary included Anton Treuer posting a message that said, "We can't demand respect with disrespect."

The owners of the bread company said some of the messages were hurtful.

Don Bishop had tears in his eyes when he recently discussed his family being characterized as racist. His grandmother was Cherokee and was born on the Oconaluftee Reservation in North Carolina.

Bishop's grandfather used the phrase "sweet squaw" as a term of endearment for his grandmother, and the sweet wheat bread baked by his grandmother was referred to by her as "squaw."

Bishop said he was shocked when he learned about the offensive nature of the term. A post on the company's Facebook page said, "We have always known this word to mean 'woman.'"

"My father-in-law remembers his grandfather using the term in a loving and respectful way and perfected the recipe as a tribute to the Native American culture," Bishop said.

"We ... are heartbroken and so sad that we would unknowingly have a name of one of our products that could be offensive to the Native American community."
Comment:  Once again, it's nice to see a Native protest via social media produce quick results.

This protest began a week or two after I posted Native Stereotypes in Breakfast Foods and Milton's Squaw Bread. But this is a different company and I don't think there's a connection.

I gather squaw bread is a type of bread and many people and companies make it:

Does anyone know what Squaw Bread is?All it is, is a slightly sweet bread.Where Did All the Squaw Bread Go?

So these bakeries didn't choose the name "Squaw" because they thought it sounded cool. They were merely offering a type of bread commonly known as squaw bread.

So nobody meant to slur Natives with this term. But the fact remains that Natives don't like it. There's no reason to use a term that few people are familiar with, and a good reason to change it. So give up "squaw bread" and call it "Grandmother's Bread" or something.

For more on "squaw," see Columnist Defends Mummers Parade and Limbaugh Calls Warren "Squaw Indian Giver."


Anonymous said...

I don't get why it would be associated with Indians anyway. Indians didn't grow wheat.

But I think once people learn what "squaw" means, yeah, that's not usually something you want in the name of whatever food you're selling.

Anonymous said...

You can tell the family that owned this bakery truly didn't mean to offend by the way they acted so quickly once they were aware that's what they were doing. As opposed to the Washington Redskins, who keep saying "We don't mean to offend anyone" and practically muttering under their breath "but we don't give a shit if we do."

dmarks said...

Anon: It sure wouldn't surprise me though if Native farms have grown wheat for a couple hundred years, at least. Which, if true, would make it part of Native history/heritage.

It doesn't have to be "1491".

Rob said...

I didn't see anything about the origin of the name or the bread. I would've guessed that Indians in the Colonial era created the bread by adding a natural sweetener such as honey.

The following posting offers a variation of that theory: that German immigrants borrowed the ingredients from Indians.


In researching this recipe I have come to one conclusion. There is no one thing called squaw bread. The Navajo prepare a bread called Squaw Fry Bread. It is unclear as to whether this is a traditional recipe or if it is something that was made up to sell to tourist. Several bakeries in the west sell a raisin-rye bread in loaves and call it Traditional Squaw Bread. After some extensive research and review of many recipes, my conclusion is that while there may have been some ancient corn-based bread called squaw bread none of the modern incarnations are in the least bit a traditional recipe. Rye is at the heart of almost all squaw bread recipes and as such, the origin of this bread is most likely German. Now, don’t be surprised. Germans are responsible for another decidedly American/Texan/Mexican dish, Chili.

Throughout the 19th century Germans poured into America. They came to America with aspirations of grandeur. They got to America and found the same type of dirty, stinky cities they had left in Europe (remember the car and modern plumbing were yet to be invented). So the Germans followed John B. L. Soule and Horace Greeley’s advice and they went west. But, they did not go empty handed. They took with them seeds to plant and recipes from their homeland. Along the way the Germans met and lived in the same areas as the Native Americans and when traditional German spices and ingredients could not be obtained they looked to the natives for substitute ingredients.