Thursday, June 23, 2011

Words...when in Rome...

Quite a while ago I was talking to Matt about some thing or other, and he said that he was taught that squaw was a bad word. Huh? Squaw is a word in my ancestor's language. It is Algonquin and was used by both my Pequot and Narragansett ancestors, among others. A week or so ago I heard the same thing from another friend.

There are many Algonquin words that made their way into the language, and across the US as the Natives ran away from the settlers, and the settlers ran away from the big cities. Pow wow (from the word pauwau) , succotash, wampum, and yes , squaw are all examples of those words. They weren't bad words, or slurs towards anyone. Native Americans didn't have slurs they called people. They may describe a group in a certain way, but there was not a maliciousness to it as in some of the words we have today. We can thank the Europeans for that.

Squaw simply means a female. I was taught it meant a young female who was of marriageable age, not a child. As the word moved to the Plains, it became a slur, a put down , with negative sexual connotation. So if you are in an Algonquin setting it isn't a bad word. It is their word, so to me, it isn't a bad word. Never was. I suppose if you are in a Plains tribe's camp, it is a bad word, but apparently they don't know the real meaning of the word.

We cannot become overly sensitive allowing people who are not native speakers of the language to tell us that it is a bad word. That is like me going to France (and the French are FAMOUS for renaming and redefining Native tribes and words, just ask the Sioux or Nez Pearce), and telling them "femme" is a bad word.

Squaw isn't a bad word, the Algonquins used it when talking about women in their tribes. Women they loved , honored and respected.

The damage was done in the Plains a long time ago, so I guess you need to remember the adage "when in Rome, do as the Romans do", but take the time to educate folks that it is NOT a bad word, nor a nasty slur.

Learn, research, grow!

Peshaui Wequashimese

(C)2011 Dr. R M Reiter Wolf. May not be used, copied or reproduced without prior written permission.

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