Maine Restricts the Use of the Word Squaw

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As reported by the Bangor Daily News, Maine Governor John Baldacci signed into law LD 797 on June 8, 2009.  This bill further limits the use of the word “squaw” in any official place names in the state of Maine.  The original bill that banned the use of “squaw” was passed in 2000.  Basically, the new bill expands the ban on the use of “squaw”  to include shortened uses like “squa” and other derivations of the word.  This legislation effects only official place name usage and does not limit the use on private property.

This legislation was sponsored by Rep. Wayne Mitchell of the Penobscot nation and was supported by several civil rights groups.  Governor Baldacci stated that the bill was in step with the Maine‘s reputation as a welcoming state and it‘s tradition of “tolerance and respect for others.”

While I agree with the attitude that all people deserve to be respected, I see this legislation as another politically correct piece of feel good politics.  I understand that at some point in history, the word “squaw” had derogatory uses but when was the last time that was anywhere near commonplace.  The word “squaw” is an Algonquin word meaning woman.  Many tribes used different derivations of this word in similar context.  For a short period of time in the late 19th century and early 20th century, it shows up in some popular literature with negative connotations.

Like most non-pc words, the negativity of the word is not in the definition but in it’s use with the intention of causing harm.  Growing up in the 70s, I do not remember anyone using this word in a negative way.  I remember finding indigenous Americans or “Indians” as we called them, to be really fascinating and noble.  Just because some people misuse a word 100 years ago, should we throw out hundreds of years of valid use.

I would think that in this time of budget crisis, energy concerns and healthcare issues that the Maine legislature and Governor could find a better use of their time.


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