'Squaw' renaming may have exception
Tuesday, June 27, 2000
Carrier - Staff writer
Augusta - County officials in northern Maine are
gearing up to
comply with a new state law banning the use of the word
in all place names, but municipal officials in
and Stockton Springs do not plan to do the same.
Officials offered conflicting
assessments Monday regarding a law
that the Legislature passed this year outlawing the word
and the alternative spelling "squa" in Maine's
streams, islands, bays, mountains and other locations.
The two towns that believe they are free to ignore the
say the sites within their borders squaw island
on sebago lake
in standish and squaw head and squaw point
in stockton springs
are privately owned and therefore
Supporters of the law disagree, saying
it requires that all such
place names be changed, regardless of who owns them.
About two dozen locations in seven
counties, most of them in
Piscataquis and Aroostook counties, may be affected by
which was passed at the request of Maine Indians.
Although some Indians do not find the word
many others say it is often used by non-Indians as a
to belittle and insult Indian women in a way that
The law requires that municipalities
change such place names if they
exist within their borders and that county
change them wherever they exist in the unorganized
The law takes effect Aug. 11. County
and local governments will
then have six months or until Feb. 11
to make the changes
and notify the state and federal governments.
Officials in Piscataquis and Aroo-
stook counties said Monday
they have not yet taken steps to change about 18
in those two counties, but they plan to do so by the
"We're going to follow the
law," said Eben DeWitt,
chairman of the Piscataquis County commissioners.
"We're not lawbreakers in Piscataquis
DeWitt said his commission probably
one of its own members, who is from Greenville,
to hold one or more hearings there on possible name
Many of the place names that will have
to be changed are
in the Greenville area, including Big Squaw
The law does not apply to private businesses that
the word in their names, such as the
Big Squaw Mountain Resort in Greenville.
In that case, the name of the mountain
will have to be changed
but the owners of the resort are free to keep the
of their business, if they see fit.
Roland Martin, the county administrator
in Aroostook County,
said county commissioners there plan to create an
in July to solicit public comment on new names for
of Squapan Township and Squa Pan Knob.
"Clearly, what we want is some
local input," Martin said.
"We fully intend to comply."
One group that has shown the way is the
which renamed Squaw Pond in Passamaquoddy territory to
State Rep. Donald Soctomah, the tribe's
representative to the
Legislature and the sponsor of the "squaw"
said the new name is an Indian word for black fly,
which aptly describes one of the pond's best-known
Similarly, the Penobscot Nation is
taking steps to rename
White Squaw Island, which is on Penobscot land in
"There is a process that the tribe
is going through on how to rename that,"
said John Banks, a tribal member of the Maine Indian
a state agency that strongly supported passage of the
The situation is far different in
Standish and Stockton Springs, where
ownership of affected properties has emerged as the
William Kirk, town manager in Standish,
said municipal officials
there believe they do not have to change the name
Squaw Island because it is privately owned.
"I think private individuals can
keep it" if they want to, Kirk said.
The owners, Robert and Ruth Mougalian of Buxton,
could not be reached for comment.
In Stockton Springs, First Selectman
Lew Armstrong said local
officials share Kirk's view as far as Squaw Head and
are concerned and will assume that owners of those
have control of the names, "until we hear to
That interpretation of the law does not
sit well with some of
the legislators who helped pass it.
They say the wishes of the landowners are immaterial
the law does not give them jurisdiction over place names.
Landowners can call their property
whatever they want,
the law's supporters say, but state law now requires
official name changes in all such cases,
ultimately including new names on maps.
"That word is going to
disappear" from all Maine place names,
"There's no exception for (private
landowners). The law is quite clear,"
said Rep. Richard Thompson, D-Naples, co-chairman of
legislative committee that considered the issue.
"It's not up to the owners.
This is separate from what they call it.
It has a separate geographic name" that must be
changed in all cases.
That's fine with Sarah Ely, daughter of
Joseph Ely of Wayland, Mass.,
who is listed by Stockton Springs as the owner of tiny
Squaw Head island.
"Whatever makes people feel
comfortable is fine with me," said Ely,
whose family also owns land on nearby Squaw Point in
"I'd say it's the town's
responsibility" to change the names, she said.
"I don't really know how we would change it"
and then make
a family-initiated change official, she said.
An update from
says take 'Squaw' off the map"
(Only 17 Republicans oppose removing
seen by many as offensive, from Maine place names)
Carrier - Staff writer
Augusta - The House of Representatives
overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday
that would ban the use of the word "squaw" in
Maine places names,
such as Big Squaw Mountain and Little Squaw Township.
The House vote, which followed close to 90 minutes of
debate, was 129-17.
All but 17 Republicans joined House Democrats and
the lone independent in support of the bill.
The measure now goes to the Senate,
which also is expected to endorse it.
Gov. Angus King has said he will sign the bill into law
if the Legislature passes it.
About 2 dozen American Indian women who listened to the
debate from the House
gallery burst into applause when the vote was announced.
"I think a mountain was moved
today," Vera Francis,
a Passamaquoddy woman, said after the vote.
"I think the state of Maine is daring to undo racism
"This is a go-ahead for a new beginning," said
a Penobscot woman who observed the debate.
"There is no denying that it's positive."
The bill would require municipalities
and counties to come up
with new place names within 6 months of the law
If the bill is passed and signed during the
legislative session, the law would go into effect in
so new place names would have to be in place by January.
More than 2 dozen place names, many of
them in the
Greenville area, would be affected.
The bill would not prevent businesses, organization
or individuals from using the word
The House debate closely mirrored the
supporters and opponents offered during a public
hearing before the
Judiciary Committee in January.
American Indian women who testified for the bill at
hearing described "squaw" as an insulting term
routinely used by non-Indiansto degrade and
insult Indian women in a way that implies
Opponents countered that the bill is an
exercise in political
correctness that would eliminate the use of an American
Indian word that
originated as a neutral or even a
complimentary term for "woman" or
The word appears to have
originated among southern
New England tribes
and it may not have been derogatory in origin.
But linguistic experts say the word has been usurped by
over the centuries and transformed into a demeaning
Contemporary dictionaries of ten list
it as an insulting or offensive word.
The word does not exist in any of Maine's tribal
"We're not asking you to stop anyone else from using
We're not trying to ban the word from the language,"
Rep Richard Thompson,
D-Naples, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told
the House on Wednesday.
But he said, the state should not sanction the use of the
word in place names
because "it was a word adopted by Europeans to brand
Lawmakers "know in their
heart" that the word has
become and remains an insult," Thompson said.
"This word is offensive and dehumanizing," said
Rep. Donald Soctomah,
the Passamaquoddy Tribe's representative and the sponsor
of the bill.
"It is not about political correctness. It is
about human decency."
"Many of you don't understand when living, feeling,
breathing native people
tell you they are dehumanized" by the use of the
word, said Rep. Donna Loring,
the Penobscot Nations's representative in the House.
"Native people in Maine are
surrounded by prejudice, hatred and abuse.
It's a dark place" that needs to exposed to the
light of education and compassion.
Supporters generally outnumbered opponents during the
Rep. Paul Waterhouse, R-Bridgton, the lone member of the
Judiciary Committee to oppose the bill,
told the House that Indians should fight to restore
"the original, respectful meaning"
of the word instead of trying to outlaw its use in place
The word "doesn't belong to the victors" who
have misused it, Waterhouse said.
"It belongs to the indigenous people."
But even the few lawmakers who spoke
against the bill were muted in their criticism.
Waterhouse said his decision to oppose the bill was
"very tough" to make.
Rep. John Buck, R-Yarmouth, another opponent, conceded
during the debate
that there are "compelling reasons why you can vote
The mandatory name changes would hurt
such businesses as the Squaw Mountain Resort,
said Rep. Earl Richardson, R-Greenville, because the very
names of such
businesses are inextricably linked to the current
name of Squaw Mountain.
Greenville Town Manager David Cota, who
testified against the bill
at the hearing but was not present for the House vote,
said later in a telephone interview that the proposed law
in the face of evidence that Squaw Mountain was named by
"We're going to lose a sense of
who we are" once the name changes are made,
Cota said. "These names are very dear to our
history in this area.
We're not the bad guys. We're not trying to be
irreverent to Native Americans."
Loring, the Penobscot Nation's
representative, had a far different view.
"I think this is going to do a lot to enhance the
self-respect, not only of native women, but of
Loring said after the vote. "This is one of my
best days" in the Legislature,
she said, but with additional votes still pending,
"I hope to have better days."
Paul Carrier can be contacted
phone at: 207-622-7511
or email at:
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