September 26, 2023

‘Moose’ becomes popular, easy ‘squaw’ substitute

With a deadline looming, a popular choice for replacing the word “squaw” on two dozen mountains, waterways and other features in Maine has been to simply substitute the word “moose.”

That means Big Squaw Township will become Big Moose Township and Big Squaw Pond will become Big Moose Pond.

The new names will only add to the ubiquitous presence of moose in Piscataquis County, which is home to the 32-mile-long Moosehead Lake and where there are probably more moose than people.

“Basically, we voted to replace the word squaw with the word moose,” said Eben DeWitt, chairman of the county commissioners.

The state law gives county and municipal officials until Feb. 11 to change the names of places containing the words “squaw” or “squa.” The measure was adopted after American Indians testified that the word is offensive to them because it’s been used to mean a woman of loose morals, or whore.

Piscataquis County officials approved using “moose” for a couple townships, mountains and waterways after a request for guidance from local residents yielded few serious suggestions. An exception was Little Squaw Township, which wanted to be named Moosehead Junction.

Aroostook County opted to deal with “squa” – which was deemed offensive because its pronunciation could be mistaken for “squaw” – by removing the space between it and the next syllable, “pan,” in a half-dozen names. Thus Squa Pan Lake becomes Squapan Lake, and so on.

“Squapan” is acceptable because it means “bear den,” said Donald Soctomah, the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s representative in the Legislature and the bill’s sponsor.

The Passamaquoddy Tribe also changed a name in a parcel of land it bought in western Maine. Based on ideas from children at two grammar schools, Squaw Pond became Sipun, the Passamaquoddy word for black fly.

More complicated is Big Squaw Mountain.

The mountain will be called Big Moose Mountain, but the ski resort on it will still be called Big Squaw Mountain Resort.

The law does not affect private enterprises. The owner, James Confalone, said he sees nothing wrong with the name and does not plan to change it. None of the backers of Maine’s law have contacted him about changing the name, he added.

The resort notwithstanding, American Indians have made inroads in eliminating use of the word “squaw” as a name.

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