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California Legislature Removes the Word “Squaw” from Place Names

California Legislature Removes the Word "Squaw" from Place Names

New law will remove the word ‘squaw’ from California place names

Updated 8:02 AM ET, Wed January 18, 2013

This is the second in a series of stories about the state’s most popular Indian and Northern culture place names.

California Indian Place Names: Squaw | Image: Wikimedia Commons

By Tom Williams

Updated 8:02 AM ET, Wed January 18, 2013

The debate over whether to remove the word “squaw” from California Indian place names has heated up. A new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this morning removes the word “squaw”:

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Affairs approved Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) on Thursday, clearing the way for Brown to remove “squaw” from the list of Indian place names.

If enacted, the bill would bring the state in line with a more than 50 percent majority of Native American communities nationwide that have adopted the use of a non-truncated version of the word.

The proposed law removes the word “squaw” from state and local place names, replacing it with the non-truncated version: “Nagames.” Some community leaders and tribal members say that will be a major step toward removing the word from the state’s vocabulary entirely, as a more accurate non-truncated version would be “Nagalames.”

The word has come under fire here at the Capitol and in other state legislatures in the past few years—where it has been the subject of court challenges and some attempts to keep it in place through legislation.

California native and tribal members, including some who claim to be representing the word’s use and to be speaking as representatives of “the people,” have taken the lead in advocating for the use of the word “squaw” in place names.

“We want that word to continue and we want it to continue with some sensitivity to the native people and the people already there,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-Santa Barbara, who sponsored the bill to remove the word. “The Native people have been using that word for hundreds of years and it was never in the Constitution to exclude them.”

The controversy about the word’s use dates to the late 1970s, when the state legislature was considering adding a provision to an Indian gaming law prohibiting “squaw” from being used as place names in state and local documents

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