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Naming of places using Indian slur targeted
Written by Glenn Adams
from Portland Press Herald
AUGUSTA Gov. John Baldacci on Monday signed a bill to tighten a nine-year-old law that bars the use of the word "squaw" for official place names. The word is offensive to Native Americans, who say it's degrading to women.
After Maine's law took effect, Big Squaw Mountain in Greenville became Big Moose Mountain, and a couple of dozen other names were changed.
But there have been efforts in some communities to end-run the restriction by using shorter versions of the slur, such as "squa," or combining it with another word to form place names.
Paul Bisulca, chair of the Maine Indian-Tribal State Commission, told lawmakers earlier this year that "no matter how you spell it," the words are offensive. He asked the Judiciary Committee to "do what should have been done nine years ago."
The new law prohibits any derivation of "squaw" or "squa" as a separate word or part of a word in a place name.
Nicholas Smith, a Maine Indian researcher from Brunswick, told lawmakers that the offensive word is an Anglicized derivation of an Algonquin word for female that became "a popular racial slur degrading and dehumanizing Indian women."
Several others states and some Canadian provinces prohibit the name, long used for mountains, lakes, townships and other sites.
In signing the bill Monday, Baldacci said Maine supports tolerance and respect. "Every Maine person and every Maine community deserves to be treated with dignity," he said.
Joining Baldacci at the signing was the bill's sponsor, Rep. Wayne Mitchell of the Penobscot Nation. The bill was supported by several religious organizations, the Maine Human Rights Commission and the Maine Women's Lobby.
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