Unbroken Connection

DinaFor Indigenous Peoples Day, an excerpt from Dina Gilio-Whitaker’s brilliant new release As Long As Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock (2019).

The very thing that distinguishes Indigenous peoples from settler societies is their unbroken connection to ancestral homelands. Their cultures and identities are linked to their original places in ways that define them: they  are reflected in language, place names and cosmology (origin stories). In Indigenous worldviews, there is no separation between people and land, between people and other life forms, or between people and their ancient ancestors whose bones are infused in the land they inhabit and whose spirits permeate place.

What’s in a Name?

The opening paragraphs of Dina Gilio-Whitaker’s recent piece in Sierra Magazine “What’s in a Name? What It Means to Decolonize a Natural Feature.”

There are hundreds upon hundreds of them—by one count, more than 800. They are mountains, valleys, creeks, lakes, and other physical landmarks with one thing in common: They all have the word squaw in their name.

The exact derivation of squaw is unclear. Some etymologists say that it’s an Algonquin word for “woman”; others say that it’s a mistranslation of the Mohawk term for “vagina.” In any case, it’s inarguable that over the centuries the word became a misogynistic and racist slur directed at Indigenous women—a means of using language to demean. Yet the word is etched across the American landscape. There are at least 1,400 places across the United States whose official names contain a racial slur of some sort. By far the most common epithet is squaw (hereafter, I will use sq***).

Continue reading “What’s in a Name?”