For well over two centuries this word has carried the connotation that Native American women are dull-witted, virtually slaves and less than human, so that acts of violence against them were somehow not crimes.
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
Yesterday, I was watching a video on Youtube that is part of a series on the Indian Wars on the Western Plains. It was bad enough that the plot projected the long held belief in the United States that Indians were barriers to progress, who had to be corralled or killed so their land could be stolen to make way for progress. Then I was stunned to hear the narrator state, “The only survivors were a Mexican woman and an Indian squaw.”
No matter what the narrator claims was his intent, what he was really saying was that the Mexican woman was fully human and the Native American female, was something less important. What? Was her value in the realm of a horse, Colt revolver or a Winchester rifle . . . probably not even that much . . . maybe a saddle blanket?
I immediately wrote this comment to the creator of the documentary video: “Please do not use the term, squaw. Native Americans find it offensive.” I expected that several other viewers would state the same concern. Nope.
Several readers did express support for continued use of the word, squaw, in conversation, printed media and films. Their reasoning was that . . . it had become a word in the English language and was defined as “a female American Indian.” If it was an accepted word in the dictionary, then it was perfectly okay to use that word.
The English word, squaw, is an ethnic and sexual slur, historically used for Indigenous North American women. Contemporary use of the term, especially by non-Natives, is considered derogatory, misogynist, and racist. Its offensiveness is intensified by the coarse sound of the word.
While the monosyllable, squaw (or a close variant) is found within longer words in several Eastern and Central Algonquian languages, these languages only make up a small minority of the Indigenous languages of North America. The word “squaw” is not used by South American, Mesoamerican, Native American, First Nations, Inuit, or Métis peoples. Even in Algonquian, the related monosyllables used are not the English-language slur, but only a component part of longer Algonquian words that contain more than one syllable.
Do you find the word, squaw, offensive? Then speak up where and when, you hear it uttered.