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'Squaw' Names Soon To Be History [archive]

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'Squaw' Names Soon To Be History
Gov. King signs into law mandatory renaming of 24 locations and features

The clock began ticking down Monday for changing the names of all Maine public landmarks that include the word "squaw," which has been deemed offensive and demeaning to women and American Indians.

Gov. Angus King signed into law a bill that requires new names for places like Squaw Pond and Big and Little Squaw townships.

The bill takes effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session. After that, a special commission will have six months to recommend changes. That means the changes would take place around next January.

The bill-signing ceremony took place in the governor's Augusta office, which was filled with members of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac and Maliseet tribes, along with lawmakers who pushed for the legislation.

"It's not just an issue of being politically correct," said Tony Sprague, a spokesman for the governor. "This is a term that is offensive to them and it shouldn't be used in public places."

In all, about two dozen Maine mountains, waterways and other features bearing the name are affected by the law.

The law does not affect private entities, such as the Squaw Mountain ski resort near Greenville. The owner of the resort says he sees nothing wrong with the name and doesn't plan to change it.

The move toward elimination of the word "squaw" follows a trend nationwide.

Lawmakers in Minnesota and Montana already have adopted similar laws removing "squaw" from public site names. In Colorado, even the endangered squawfish was targeted by Indian activists and renamed the Colorado pikeminnow.

In Maine, American Indians assumed that others knew the derogatory nature of the word, which implies sexual promiscuity, and were surprised to find out so many people didn't know it was degrading, said Rep. Donald Soctomah, the Passamaquoddy Tribe's representative and sponsor of the bill.

"It took a lot of work from people in the native communities to open up and talk about something that's as heartfelt as this," Soctomah said Monday. "What helped was people were willing to listen."

Rep. Donna Loring, the Penobscot Nation's representative, said the overwhelming approval was a positive step for tribal-state relations.

"I think it's indicative that our relationship has been improving and the state finally sees us as people who have feelings," Loring said. "In the past, it's like we didn't exist. We were invisible."

The Maine law, like the others, will have an impact on dozens of maps and map-making programs made by companies across the country.

DeLorme Inc., the Freeport map company, could see the changes in time for next year's edition of the Maine Atlas & Gazetteer, which is issued in late March or early April, said Charles Conley, marketing manager.

For DeLorme, it represents the potential of an unusually large number of name changes to be made all at once.

But it goes with the turf.

"It's not a huge deal for us," Conley said. "From our standpoint, it doesn't present us with a big burden. Part of being a mapmaker is knowing you'll always be making revisions."

Additional Reading

 Indian Tribes
 The Penobscot
 The Passamaquoddy
 The Mi'kmaq
 The Malecite
 Glooscap Legends
 American Indians in Maine

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