Archive for Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Idaho refuses to ban ‘squaw’ names

February 27, 2001

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— State lawmakers on Monday rejected a proposal to change the names of Idaho locations that include the word "squaw," a term many American Indians consider derogatory.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 10-9 to kill the resolution, which Idaho tribes had promoted. It had passed the state Senate with only one dissenting vote.

Montana, Maine, Oklahoma and Minnesota already have made moves to remove the word. Coeur d'Alene Tribe Chairman Ernie Stensgar said he was surprised Idaho did not follow their example.

"The Indian tribes are going to look at the state of Idaho really hard and wonder where our leadership is headed in terms of diversity," he said.

Indian leaders say the word is a vulgar racial or sexual insult that translates roughly into the word "whore" in Maine's Passammaquoddy Tribe. In Iroquois, it is derived from a word for female genitalia.

The word appears on more than 1,000 geographic features nationwide, primarily in the West and Midwest, including 93 in Idaho, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Idaho resolution would have created a committee of state and Indian leaders to propose new names for the landmarks. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names would have had to approve the changes.

Supporters said passage the resolution would show Idaho's opposition to bigotry. The state spends $100,000 a year trying to counter perceptions that it tolerates racism, primarily because the white supremacist group Aryan Nations is based there.

"Here's a chance to undo some of that perception. Instead we reinforced it," Republican Sen. Moon Wheeler said. "It was worth a million dollars of good publicity if we would have done that. As it is, it's a disaster."

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