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The Squaw renamed, dropping ethnic slur

Laura Hendricklhendrick@squamishchief.comA few Squamish Nation women are taking action to change the local usage of an ethnic and sexist slur.

Laura Hendricklhendrick@squamishchief.comA few Squamish Nation women are taking action to change the local usage of an ethnic and sexist slur. Climbers and hikers exploring the mountain behind the Stawamus Chief known as the Squaw might not have realized they were uttering the slur each time they said its name. While many believed the name designated to the mountain is a female counterpart to the Chief, the term is in fact far more offensive than romantic. Squaw is a bastardized version of the Algonquin word for "woman," and is becoming so widely recognized as a derogatory term that local guidebook writer and publisher Kevin McLane approached the Squamish Nation to suggest it was time for a change. Donna Billy was at a District of Squamish council meeting on Tuesday (June 3) to request the name Slhanay be formally recognized. "I want to thank Kevin for coming forward with it because the mountain climbers and the hikers felt that it is a derogatory word, which it is, to a native woman," said Billy.By renaming the mountain Slhanay, it would continue to represent a woman, but this time with honour and free from cultural connotations."It's more respectful. It's feminist. It's ladylike. It covers all women not just Aboriginal women," Billy said, adding Squamish Nation elders chose the new name. Council unanimously agreed to recognize the mountain the Slhanay. "The Squaw word has rankled with Squamish Nation for many years, and as a result it dropped off the map as far as government was concerned. However, it is still embedded deep in several hiking guides, popular language and climbing guides," McLane said. "I suggested to Donna [Billy] about a year ago that if Squamish Nation wanted to choose a new name, I could get it established with BC Parks and the district and make sure it appeared it future climbing guidebooks."He said he wasn't sure how the mountain's name came about but suggested it was given by a Squamish resident. Mayor Ian Sutherland said acknowledging the new name was largely symbolic."We don't have the power to change the name," said Sutherland. "The next step would be going to the parks BC Parks to recognize and follow through with this so we could have it on all the maps and so forth."BC Parks have been waiting on the district motion to move forward, he said. All councillors voted in favour of it.Shirley Lewis joined Billy to mark the occasion with the Women's Warrior Song.McLane admitted it would take some time for the new name to catch on among community members. With 25 climbs on the mountain, he said it is one of the best climbing points in Squamish."Popular adoption of the new name will take considerable time but in the next guide I'm putting out late this year, I'll be calling it Slhanay, so that should help embed it off to a good start," he said.According to a recent report in TheTyee, white people used the word in the past "to sum up its contempt for Aboriginal women, and thus all Aboriginal people."In 2000, the B.C. government announced it was removing the word from its official geographical place names registry, but many communities have hung onto the label out of habit for their lakes and mountains. TheTyee report estimated that there were about 20 places in the province using the word as a geographical place name. In Prince George there is a lake called Squaw Lake. There was once even a species of trout called the Squawfish, which has since been changed to the Northern Pike minnow.The new local name might be featured on upcoming Ministry of Transportation signs mounted along Highway 99, McLane said.The Stawamus Chief also needs to have its name formalized, Billy said. "I hope that we can start that process. We can put forward the name Siyam, which means Chief in Squamish," she said."We'll leave that one with Kevin," Sutherland replied, adding in a follow-up interview that going bilingual with both names could be an option.

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