When one hears the name “Squaw,” many different interpretations come to mind. For me, hearing the name makes me think of a young Native American girl. Not so long ago for Native Americans, the name “Squaw” referred to any Native American female. The word was used with respect and kindness, and was blended into daily conversation much as the words “girl” or “woman” are today.
Unfortunately, as is the case with many words and terms in the English language, the word, over time, began taking on a negative connotation. Once a generic term of sorts, the term “Squaw” began being misused by ignorant people or groups as a derogatory word, labeling a woman as promiscuous. Because of this, the word is far less popular than it once was, and for good reason.
Today, the way the word is said and the way in which it is understood, depends largely on who is speaking it or hearing it. It is not known why the word “Squaw” came to have a demeaning meaning. Some speculate it was because of the negative way Native American women have been depicted over time. Many people have watched movies in which a young Native American girl, or “Squaw” is lured into a romantic liaison with a cowboy hat-wearing outlaw. These movies may be partly responsible for the negative connotations associated with the word today. This is only speculation, however, as the true cause of the misinterpretation is yet unknown.
Because of the negative connotations now associated with the word, “Squaw,” some cities have outlawed the use of the name on everything from street signs or store names. Arizona has even gone so far as to not allow Squaw bread to be sold under the familiar name anymore.
It’s sad that a word, which once had such pure and simple meaning, now must be protected so it is not misused.
Joseph Paige © 2006