Monday, October 17, 2011

Indigenous female person from a once great mystical land now called the Americas.

Explaining my writings re: the "squaw" issue

By way of explanation to readers, I wish to clarify my stance on the controversies regarding the use of the word "squaw." I have NEVER supported continued use of the word as a pejorative insult directed at Native women, and I am NOT opposed to the concept of changing place names.

What I have tried to do, is to provide background documentation and explanation of the actual linguistic origins of the word in Algonkian languages, and the relatively modern historical and social processes by which it morphed into an insult. I have asked that people try to understand, and respect, the difference between insulting uses and indigenous contexts, and between different indigenous languages, both past and present. I have also asked that people not promote fictional word origins that insult our ancestors, elders, and the many people who still speak Algonkian languages that contain some form of the word, or morpheme root of a word, commonly spelled as "squaw."
And yet, I have been repeatedly misquoted, misunderstood, insulted, defamed, and physically threatened by people who see my name associated with the word "squaw" and assume I am their enemy. I have received astonishingly vivid insults and physical threats, from people who refused to believe that "squaw" could have originated in an Algonkian language, or that it could ever have had any meaning but a pejorative one. Many people seem to believe that Europeans invented the word, and placed it on maps all over the country, with the sole intent of insulting Native women. It is even more absurd, in retrospect, to realize that some writers have been willing to hurl far worse threats than "squaw" at me, simply because I chose to investigate the history behind the problem, and the process by which the insulting meaning has come to predominate. One writer declared that from now on she would call me "Vagina" instead of "Marge," and suggested I have "squaw" branded on my forehead. And this was only the mildest of insults, compared to the profanity and physical threats I received. If we are trying to end the use of "squaw" as an insult, why must we insult each other with it?

For most of the historic era, "squaw" was a simple, non-pejorative descriptive word, a classic example of the same Pidgin speech that gave us "powwow," "tipi" and "mocassin" as generic terms, universally applied to all Native American peoples. It was widely used by both Native and non-Native speakers, and its non-pejorative meaning is amply documented in literally thousands of American and English documents and dictionaries, and both oral and written records of Algonkian languages, spanning the time from the 1620s to the pre-1970s. (When time permits, I will post some transcriptions for reference.)

Yet, in the modern era, given the tragic history of non-Native treatment of Native American Indian women, the word "squaw" is often interpreted as an insult. For some, it represents the rape and abuse of Native women by white soldiers and fur traders; for others, it represents the prejudice experienced by reservation Indians. That being said, there is no need to rewrite or reframe the history of America to imply that every instance of its use was pejorative.

If our goal is to enforce respect for Native Nations, we need to honestly discuss how and why these issues come to the fore. During my research into this issue, I have come to understand how deep the divisions can be between eastern and western, reservation and urban, traditional and modern, and recognized and non-recognized Native Nations, not to mention the racial tensions between Native and non-Native, and the differences between historical and modern applications of Native words.

Rather than twist history by insisting that the word has always been an insult, we need to understand how indigenous cultures, histories, and languages have been misrepresented. And we need to support, not modern misuse, but appropriate indigenous use, of Native names, symbols, languages, history and culture. Personally, I feel we would do best to argue for revision of "squaw" place names in the name of historical accuracy, tribal sovereignty, and basic respect, since "squaw" is neither historically nor linguistically appropriate as a universal term for Native women.

So how we can use the current controversy to further public understanding of how the colonial process, and the appropriation of things Native, has affected Native peoples? When we choose to change "squaw" place names, we can claim the opportunity to recover original indigenous place names, reinforce respect for local indigenous histories, and support Native language reclamation efforts. Out of respect, we can cease using "squaw" as a generic term for Native women, just as we can cease using "brave" as a generic term for Native men. We can educate the general public to understand the marvellous diversity of our histories, languages, homelands and cultures, instead of stereotyping all Indians as western Plains warriors in feather headdresses.

It is my fervent hope that our dialogues about the details of history will result in better understanding, and respect for, the diversity of Native Nations, the diversity of responses to the colonial invasion, and the diversity of processes for recovering indigenous histories, rather than further insult.

The above written By: Wlioni, Marge. 29 March 2001

Please click on the following link for a complete explanation from a very educated Indian Woman:



Ernie Branscomb said...

No kidding Oregon. You gotta email me. I lost your complicated long email in my last computer crash. This time I will write it on the wall. I think that I did that last time but I lost the wall...

spyrock said...

my mother told me the legend of squaw rock, now frog woman rock, and i never knew her to lie. but she would only tell such a story in the present moment as we were driving by. i listened with amazement and wonder and every time we went to spyrock, i looked out the window for that rock. is that so bad? i guess bad is in the eyes of the beholder. me no bad.
if you see bad, own it.

spyrock said...

you also forgot squawmen. this is a usually derogatory description of white men who married california indian women or who lived as man or wife. the same people who say squaw is a racist word think nothing of describing a biracial relationship between a white man and an indian woman in a very negative light using the word squawman which actually means something more racist that the word squaw. please read joaquin miller's life amongst the modoc. joaquin was one of your squawmen and he actually lived with the indians. my 5g grandfather was adopted by the shawnee to replace a family member who was killed in battle which was their custom. many northern california indian women had more than one husband and were and are a lot smarter than you give them credit for. if you want to lay down history, then check out all the history. not just the history that supports your agenda. i'm not saying that what frank asbil did was ok at all. it was terrible. those things did happen. but there's so much more that you are conviently leaving out. the rest of the story.

Ernie Branscomb said...

A private conversation convinced me that "They can say the word, you can't". So I changed the title. That is my only word in the post other than the direction on how to click on the link. I still think that the whole article is very important reading... Please do.

So another question. I have very pointedly been requested by some of my friends to refer to them as Indian. Usually I don't even think about it, but sometimes it is an issue on the table. Do any of the P.C. police out there have any great suggestions???

spyrock said...

i don't see it pc at all. it is the responsibility of the red race to forgive what happened or all of us will suffer as we have for years now. i have always known indians like that and i am meeting some now. but there are many indians out there still full of hate and that is a total waste.
why is it ok to do the same thing your enemy did. it's not ok. look at the big picture. one earth. one people.