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2014-02-12 / Voices

The Rez of the Story

VINCE TWO EAGLES
Ihanktowan Dakota Oyate

Hau

Mitakuyepi (Greetings My Relatives),

In last week's LCT (Lakota Country Times) the headline read, “SD panel moves to remove ‘squaw,’ keep ‘Negro.’ Thanks to the efforts of staff attorney Joe Nadenicek of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Senate State Affairs Committee (among others) for doing the right thing the word squaw is to rightfully be considered offensive and “bans its use in place names” here in South Dakota. I’ve got to say, what a significant step in the right direction toward reconciliation between the Native people and non-Native people here in South Dakota. Casting out our stereotypes of one another is a good thing and I’m all in favor of that.

“Stereotypes applied to American Indians over the past 500 years show that Native people have been variously defined as innocent children of nature, subhuman demons, untrustworthy thieves, noble savages, bloodthirsty murderers, royal princesses, human curiosities, unfeeling stoics, natural- born warriors, innately inferior humans, shiftless wanderers, vanishing vestiges of the stone age, wild animals, oppressed and promiscuous “squaws,” lazy parasites“. . .[and so on] (taken from American Indians Answers to Today’s Questions by Jack Utter).

I know there are those who are asking why? Why is that word so offensive? I hope this helps answer that very question. Here from Wikipedia we find something about the word’s origins and thus the following:

“In some 19th -and 20th- century texts squaw is used or perceived as derogatory. Most of the uses are not sexual. One author, for example, referred to “the universal ‘squaw’- squat, angular, pig-eyed, ragged, wretched, and insect-hunted” (Steel 1883). Squaw also became a derogatory adjective used against some men, in “squaw man”, “meaning either “a man who does women’s work” or “a white man married to an Indian woman and living with her people” (Hodge 1910). (This was a popular literary stereotype, as in The Squaw Man.)

“The activist LaDonna Harris, telling of her work in empowering Native American schoolchildren in the 1960s at Ponca City, Oklahoma recounted: “We tried to find out what the children found painful about school [causing a very high dropout rate]. The children said that they felt humiliated almost every day by teachers calling them “squaws” and using all those other old horrible terms” (Harris 2000).

“In this case the term seems to have been regularly applied to girls in the lower grades of the elementary school, long before their puberty. Some but not all Native American condemnation of “squaw” results from claims that it came from a [Indian] word for vagina. Explicit statements that “squaw” came from a word meaning “female genitals” gained currency in the 1970s. Perhaps the first example was in Sanders and Peek (1973): “That curious concept of ’squaw’, the enslaved, demeaned, voiceless child bearer, existed and exists only in the mind of non-Native American [s] . . . meaning ’female sexual parts’. . .

“The controversy increased when Oprah Winfrey invited the Native American activist Susan Harjo onto her show in 1992. Harjo said on the show that “squaw is an Algonquin Indian word meaning vagina. As a result of these claims, some Native people have taken to spelling the word sq***, or calling it the s-word. Apart from the linguistic debate, the word “squaw” has become offensive to many modern Native Americans because of usage that demeans Native women, ranging from condescending images (e.g., picture postcards depicting “Indian squaws and papoose”) to racialized epithets (Green 1975). It is similar in tone to the words “Negrees” and “Jewess,” (Adams 2000) which treat ethnic women as if they were second-class citizens or exotic objects.

[Many] “. . . Native people would like to see the word eliminated altogether regardless of its Algonquin origins and etymology. This desire has inspired a number of local initiatives [besides SD], many controversial, to change the hundreds of placenames across America that contain squaw.” Let’s keep it going America, you’re on the right path!

And now you know the rez of the story.

Doksha (later).

Vince Two eagles is a columnist for the times, his columns were born of an effort to help people in rural areas learn more about the beliefs and lives of lakota and Dakota people. he has created a compilation of his columns in a book called “rez of the Story- Volume one.” To order the compilation go to his website at: www.rezofthestory.com or call 605-660-0378. Vince can also be reached at otokahe@hotmail.com.

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