Native Americans Object to Use of "Squaw" in Place Names

January 28, 2001

Source: Omaha World-Herald

On January 28, 2001, the Omaha World-Herald reported that in September Gov. Mike Johanns of Nebraska wrote letters "to the 11 counties that have Nebraska's 14 physical features with 'squaw' in their names. The letters noted that the word is considered offensive and asked County Boards to voluntarily recommend new names by Feb. 1." So far "only Gage County has recommended a new name for adoption by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names...Gage County's Squaw Creek ...will be renamed Otoe Creek, in honor of the former Nebraska tribe that had a reservation in the county from 1854 to 1882." Commissioners in other counties have not made the renaming a priority because they contend that "'the local people in that area never looked at (the name) as offensive.'...Some of those urging the abolition of 'squaw' link it to a Mohawk word for a woman's private parts...[But] many linguists trace the word to 1624...when it was borrowed from the Massachusett Indian nation's word for 'young woman.'...Whites later applied 'squaw' to Indian women in demeaning ways, including as a synonym for prostitute." More than 1,000 locations in 36 states have "squaw" in their names. Three states have passed laws mandating the change.