The Coeur d'Alene Tribe's push to replace the word "squaw" with modern, less-controversial names on Washington's maps has been stalled by a tussle over a new name for the Whitman County community of Squaw Canyon.
The word "squaw," tribal members and their supporters say, is a racist linguistic artifact that demeans Indian women.
Last year, tribal chairman Chief J. Allan asked Washington officials to rename two places that fell within the tribe's aboriginal territory. One is Squaw Canyon, north of Rosalia and Malden; the other nearby Squaw Creek. Allan made similar requests for 11 similarly named sites in Idaho and two in Montana.
For Squaw canyon and creek, the tribe favors "Awtskin" canyon and creek, meaning "lookout."
"Continuation with the current offensive names by any governmental entity is an embarrassment" wrote Worley resident Patrick Kiernan, one of about 20 people who wrote state officials backing the change.
But area residents say that if the spot must be renamed, they should pick the name.
"Our family has farmed and lived in the Squaw Creek/Canyon area for three generations," Bruce and Cindy Allert wrote to the state Board on Geographic Names. They see no need to change the name, they said. But if the change is inevitable, they recommend the names Jack Pine, Woodland or Harvest.
"If you have to change everything, at least have the kindness to consider the wishes of those who have lived here for over 100 years," wrote A. Jeanne Kjack, an author. In a separate note, Kjack urged the board to "let the Coeur d'Alene Tribe stick to Idaho."
In a response in March, Allan said the tribe welcomes the input.
"We understand," he wrote. "We know exactly what it's like to live in these and other places … to make a living generation after generation, then have others come into the country, alter the demographic and physical landscape and subsequently apply random and arbitrary place names to one's familiar places."
But Awtskin is a fitting name, he said, particularly if viewed as part of the Coeur d'Alene phrase "to look at each other from the heart."
For years, he wrote, Coeur d'Alene women and children would head to the plains west of the reservation for root-digging expeditions. (They called the site of present-day Colfax "hnch'laqhemn.") Tribal elders recall white farm families who welcomed the Indians back year after year, allowing them to camp and gather the traditional food.
"Somewhere in the overlapping oral histories of the people who then and now occupy these places," Allan wrote, "are farm folks who remember receiving beaded handmade gloves or dolls as gifts from old Indian women, and Indian elders who still appreciate the milk and eggs, the kindness and the hospitality extended by the 'neighbors' they saw only occasionally when they were children."
The state Board on Geographic Names is seeking public comment for its next meeting, slated for Sept. 21 in Olympia. To comment, send an e-mail to Caleb Maki, at firstname.lastname@example.org.