Tag Archives: Native

Racist names, Racist Places

by Special Correspondent Jessica Yee

Savage. Squaw. Indian. Would we all agree that these are immensely derogatory names that should not be, in this day and age, still used to geographically locate places? Or even people, for that matter?

From the varying answers I’ve received when posing this question, it all really depends on who you ask and what it’s for. Percie Sacobie from the Maliseet Nation in New Brunswick, is currently lobbying the city council of St. Mary’s to change the name of “Savage Island”, located seven kilometres west of Fredericton, to something less demeaning to the Wolastoqiyik people.

He went to city council with historical documentation of its origin, and the full support of the Maliseet chiefs from Oromocto, Kingsclear, Tobique, Woodstock, Madawaska and St. Mary’s First Nations, only to be told that he has to submit some sort of formal application process, and maybe, just maybe, they might consider changing it.

The Wolastoqiyik people are recorded to have used Indian (as it’s locally referred to) or Savage Island as far back as 1762, when Surveyor General Charles Morris described it as “a place where the Maliseets held their annual council.” It was a place where disputes were settled and hunting grounds allotted to each family before they began their summer hunts.

Percie Sacobie is suggesting the island’s name be changed to “Eqpahak Island”, which means “at head of tide on river or inlet.”

This is quite a similar story to a recent number of name change requests, or challenges to the history of the seemingly racist names places have been given. In December 2000, the province of British Columbia passed legislation that removed the word “Squaw” from all public establishments where the word is used. Although the act of carrying out this legislation has been less than desirable, British Columbia followed suit from Saskatchewan, Alberta, Prince Edward Island and the Yukon, as well as a number of U.S. states who also passed similar legislation.

Yet there are some people who contest that “squaw” isn’t even an offensive word. They claim that this was an honorable word for women, before it was twisted around to mean something racist and degrading by the colonizers. Even if the word were ever to be reclaimed, it has certainly been tainted for good by its misuse. Continue reading