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 Date: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 22:01:17 -0500 From: Marge Bruchac <email@example.com> Subject: REPLY: On Mascots, "Squaw," and Other Issues Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1 Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit X-UIDL: fd709eb39493cd499d9a9dbad1d41aba Kwai kwai FYI for those of you who have been listening to me rant about this issue. After sending this email as a part of conversations with Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and other Wabanaki friends and activists, as well as legislators, the Lewiston Sun Journal caught wind of it and asked me to run this as a guest editorial, given the upcoming debate in the Maine State Legislature to remove the word squaw from all place names in the state. For your reading, here is my argument. Wli nanawalmezi, Marge - - - - - Title: Reclaiming the Word “Squaw” in the Name of the Ancestors Kwai kwai. Greetings. I write to you as an alnobaskwa, an Abenaki woman, questioning the motion to gut our original language in the name of political correctness. Over the past few decades, in my travels as a traditional storyteller and historical consultant, I have met many indigenous speakers and elders who are concerned at the efforts of otherwise well-meaning people to remove the word "squaw" from the English language. Squaw is NOT an English word. It IS a phonetic rendering of an Algonkian word that does NOT translate to “a woman’s private parts.” The word “squaw,” as “esqua,” “squa,” “skwa,” “skwe” or 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 as “squaw vine” and “squaw root,” among many others. There are rumors about the word’s usage by the fur trade era French, 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 the 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? Let me tell you a story. A good friend, a revered New England Algonkian elder, gave her granddaughter a traditional name that ended in “-skwa” meaning “powerful little woman.” That poor girl came home from school in tears one day, asking, “Why did you name me such a horrible name? All my teachers told me it's a dirty word.” When our languages are perceived as dirty words, we and our grandchildren are in grave danger of losing our self-respect. That school is now being taught that squaw is NOT a dirty word, but an indigenous term that used to be misused and misunderstood, and that it is an appropriate, traditional, and honorable part of this girl's name. Some American Indian activists have written to me saying, “well, YOU can use the word if you want, but WE consider it obscene.” This labeling of my indigenous language as obscene is a racist statement. It makes no sense for Native people to cling to, and accept, the wrong translation. We must stop, now, and educate, rather than tolerate the loss of our language due to ignorance. Historical Background Before the arrival of the colonists, the word “squaw” was not an insult. When Roger Williams spoke with the Narragansett people in 1643, he was informed that “squaw” meant “woman,” “squawsuck” = “women,” “squashim” = “a female animal,” “keegsquaw” = “a young virgin or maid” and “segousquaw” = “a widow,” among many other examples. Williams, as a white man, was not taught the specific words that describe female parts. Out of delicacy I will not print them here. Even Indian people speaking English chose to say “squaw” rather than “woman.” Susanna Johnson, an English captive in 1754, wrote: “. . . my new sisters and brothers treated me with the same attention they did their natural kindred,” giving her a horse, “for squaw to ride,” and teaching her “the occupation of the squaws.” But when she got lazy, her new family “showed no other resentment than calling me 'no good squaw,' which was the only reproach my sister ever gave me when I displeased her.” (Note that the emphasis is on “no good,” not on “squaw.”) I understand the concern of Indian women who feel insulted by this word, but I respectfully suggest that we reclaim our language rather than let it be taken over. To borrow an old proverb, “let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.” If the “water” - the meaning of the word in some minds - is dirty, let us work together to make it clean again, instead of throwing out the word. There are times and places where it is necessary to distinguish a woman from a man, and English is problematic as well, since “man” is the root form and “woman” a modifier. But I identify myself as a “woman” despite the fact that even that word has been slanderously used by those who think that women are less intelligent, strong, or capable than men. We can do what the “Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women” in Edmonton, Alberta has done with the term “esquao,” the northern linguistic equivalent of “squaw” - they have declared that it will no longer be tolerated as an insult, but will instead be recognized as a term of honor and respect. Their manifesto states in part: “From the colonists inability to pronounce the word Esquao, the word 'squaw' came to be a derogatory term. IAAW is claiming back the term for all Aboriginal Women to stand proud when we hear Esquao applied to us.” Place Names Where the words “Indian” or “chief” or “squaw” have been used in place names, they usually reference some memorable person or event, without a negative reference implied (unless the event was a massacre of white settlers). Thus we have “Indian Island” where the Penobscot people live, “Squaw Betty,” in Bristol County, MA, recalling a local Wampanoag woman, and many “Squaw Rock”s remembering female chiefs. Many “squaw” place names recognized ancient places where women did traditional activities. Without a very good understanding of history, it is a mistake to erase the lives, stories, and voices of the women whose presence was acknowledged by the original naming. As a traditionalist and historian, I am deeply suspicious of how modern political attitudes are often applied to the past without careful consideration of origins. Hitler effectively slandered one of the oldest and most universal sacred symbols, the world wheel or “swastika,” by appropriating it for his own purposes. Native American people who dare to use this traditional symbol today are scorned by the ill-informed. We, as indigenous peoples, must not let other cultures, even other “Native American” cultures, define, and defile, our languages and symbols. I even hesitate to use the term “Native American,” since it implies that we are Native citizens of a colonialist power that conquered and divided the original nations in this continent (none of whom were “American”), but that's another discussion. The issue of Indian mascots and appropriate usage of Indian statues, images, words, names, etc. in non-Indian communities is far more complex than some activists wish to believe. Racist intent may be the case where the images are used to consciously erase, defame, misrepresent or overly romanticize. But in many regions, the use of Indian images and place names supports the historic presence of local tribal nations, many of whom have yet to be recognized by the federal government. Many New England Indians celebrate historically accurate statues and monuments and place names. That doesn't, however, mean they want to see a warrior with a western Plains headdress on the floor of the school gymnasium. The northeastern Algonkian peoples held back the tide of colonization for 400 years, fighting, adapting, and negotiating treaties in order to stay in our traditional territories. We shared our culture, foodways, stories, and languages to such a degree that much of what we think of as quintessentially “Yankee” today is in fact “Indian.” Our complicated history included efforts to teach the newcomers respect while defending our land, families, and culture. The real issue for American Indian people today, across America, is not just words and mascots, but the forging of new relationships based on mutual respect and understanding, in traditional homelands, beyond the stereotypes. And the more pressing issues, of adequate food, housing, shelter, and opportunity, will not be served by attacking traditional languages in the name of political correctness. As for the place names issue, a more useful resolution might be one that acknowledges and enforces respect for indigenous peoples and languages. Before we erase names, we must erase misunderstandings. How do we rename every "Squaw Rock," without forgetting the history? We can reclaim the original language. "Squaw Peak" might become "Ktsioskwa," "great woman," or another appropriate name chosen by the Wabanaki people. Indigenous people must publicly declare that we will no longer allow our words, names, skin color, beliefs, etc. to be used against us. Whenever the word “squaw” is used as an insult, my response is: "I do not accept that definition. Among my people, WOMEN are honored and respected. The sound "squaw," regardless of its spelling, is OUR word for woman, and it is NOT to be used as an insult! When I hear it spoken by Native peoples, in its proper context, I hear the voices of the ancestors. I am reminded of powerful grandmothers who nurtured our people and fed the strangers, of proud women chiefs who stood up against them, and of mothers and daughters and sisters who still stand here today. In their honor I demand that our language, and our women, and our history, be treated with respect.” Thank you for listening. Wlibomkanni, travel well, Marge Bruchac - - - - -  Date: Sun, 28 Nov 1999 20:57:54 -0500 From: Eric Brunner <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: REPLY: On Mascots, "Squaw," and Other Issues X-UIDL: 536e3789ebc1d5610fb190dd9dac61ee As a young man I learned the language of my grandfather, the language spoken in the Siksika, Kainaa, and Apatohsipiikani Reserves and the Amskaapipiikanai Reservation. The English name of this language is "Blackfeet" or "Blackfoot". The two things that I recall was how unlike European languages our grammar is, we don't have sex, and words often run to dozens of letters. In popular usage, the term "gender" is associated almost exclusively with sex catagories. Like German and French, English nouns are classified as masculine, feminine, or neuter, and this classification is reflected in the choice of singlar pronouns, "he", "she", or "it". In Siksika we classify noun stems into two groups which are often labeled animate and inanimate. All our noun stems belong to one of these two classes, and this property of our noun stems is evident throughout our grammar. The US and Canadian university linguists use the term "grammatical gender" to convey our noun classification system to their students in terms they are familiar with. The import of this is that there is something quite, if not completely impossible to reconcile, a cognitive dissonance, when one encounters in recent popular Pan-Indian and Anglo-American cultures, the specific claim that the word "squaw" actually means an engendered body part. Nouns for parts of the body aren't engendered, neither are nouns for concrete objects such as rocks and rivers, or abstractions such as faith or truth. Siksika isn't Abenaki. The first is at the western edge of the arc of Algonquin languages, the second at the eastern edge of that same arc, between Innu and Iroquoian ranges. We share a common set of grammatical rules covering the parts of speech, the stems, verbs, nouns, tense, etc. We also share this view that things in the world either participate in the narrative emananation of creation, or not. A spoon is animate, it may contain soup, sand, or nothing. A knife is inanimate, it has no secret life of its own. To misquote a leading American, if you've seen one knife, you've seen them all. A spoon on the other hand is a constant surprise. In Henry Masta's Abenaki Grammar, a work written in the 1930's for the Abenaki Tribal School at Odenak Village, Masta employed the French term of convenience, "noble" and "ignoble", not the English terms of convenience, "active" and "inactive", or the awkward notion of a sex that is but a grammatical fiction. David Walton comes to open Abenaki socials at Lewiston, and organized a Lenard Peltier protest in Portland, but he doesn't ask the Lewiston or Portland Communities of Abenaki Indians if we've any thoughts on the subjects of Scarboro's "Redskins" and Skowheagen's "Indians". We help the historic Abenaki township of Skowheagen by contributing to their high school curriculum at our cost, continuing the work begun three decades ago in Dr. Dean Bennett's "Maine Dirigo". Scarboro is another kettle of fish. Mr. Donald Socotomah, Passamaquoddy representative to Maine's Legislature also visits Western Maine, and like Mr. Walton hasn't asked if we've any concerns about the application of Pan-Tribal and American values to one critical word-stem in Abenaki. The subject is both loaded because "squaw" is about the only word non-Indians both know, and know is Indian, and go to the effort to define as "bad" or worthy of some non-Indian ritualism. If it were just Abenaki women who had to make a sacrifice to benefit all Indians by driving a stake through the heart of the linguistic rednecks looking for a no-cost quickie, we'd have a difficult choice, but it would be our decision. It is bigger than just us however, the "'k" consonant and "wa" diphthong, "e^kwa" in the West, and "s'kwa" in the East, is part of our common language -- and our languages are our cultures, and we are matrilineal and matrilocal -- unlike our non-Indian, and urban-based Pan-Indian "squaw" activist-educators. The Abenaki issue is what to do about the "S word" this year and next. Enter public life in Maine at a time and on terms selected by others? Side with the One-Worders? Break with the Land Claims Tribes? Partition the fix along the Kennebec-Penobscot line? Re-bury the -skwa- stem in fully re-Abenakifed translations of all the place names where "Squaw" stands alone and vulnerable to the One-Worders? Keep our heads down? Now that I am married into an Abenaki family, with young children, this is my question also. I've seen the films of Indian Island school dances, with everyone except the Priests and Nuns in Plains style costume, doing Plains style dances, happy moments of Super-8 life -- someone's Wonder Years. It's not the way we are taking. The word meant something in the time of Skidwaros, the same meaning it has in Masta, Wzokihlain, and Laurent, and later still in Day. By the time of George Washington, with the long Maine Indian Wars over, it took on a new meaning, helping to demark White-Indian marriages, or White-Indian spheres of external and domestic influence, and of course, White-Indian land title. By the early 20th century, with the Indian Problem well on its way to a happy assimilationist conclusion, the word was needed less and less, until it was stranded by the ebbing tide of American awareness of Indian identity. Progressively dirtier each decade, the words signifying our Indianness, from "breed" to "non-citizen" finally to "part indian" are finally wiped out of common speech, and we, and the Americans are left with a just a road sign to a recreation area. I write, so this winter I'll write a story about the Zoga man. He's become more than just a sepia smoked figure in the Old Port, he's come to life and has begun to interact with Portlanders. He's at the Old Market, calling out crab, lobster, quohog in Abenaki, to women who calmly look at him and point at each saying nothing in Abenaki, women who clumsily try, and women who shout back at him in English. The story is in those who calmly say nothing, following the successful strategy of living invisibly in the houses of the English, the secret lives of Alnobaskwak who daily seem to be Bastoniskwak. Eric Brunner, Abenaki Portland, Maine Post Script An alternative to engaging in the ephemera of public strife, on an issue other than State (Maine) recognition of the Maine Abenaki communities, is to just go on about the business of being Abenaki. This means our oral and written arts -- some times called "language recovery" -- don't pussyfoot around the use of the -skwa- stem. The story "The Secret Squaws of the Zoga Man" (absurd working title) will be quite modest, like my abilities, but published under Abenaki imprimatur, joining Masta, Wzokihlain, Laurent, and Bruchac. Legislatures come and go, literature is more permanent, and self government is not just some noisy fiction about wars and taxes. End of Post Script