Damakant Jayshi

The five-letter word, “sq–w”, is considered so offensive to Native American women that many do not even want to utter the term. Now, dozens of Wisconsin locations that use the word are being renamed, a move tribal leaders are welcoming.

At least 28 places are undergoing a renaming process, after the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Deb Haaland, issued a federal order in November last year declaring the term, an Indigenous slur that first originated as an Algonquin term for “woman,” derogatory.

The Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force sought public input until April 25 and ultimately identified creeks, lakes, harbors, bays, knolls, and swamps, among others, to be renamed.

In Marathon County, two streams are being renamed, both of which are shared with Wood County. Sq–w Creek has five proposed replacement names: McMillan Marsh, Rangeline Flowage, Big Eau Pleine Reservoir, 1 Reservoir, and North Smoky Hill Flowage. The proposed names for South Sq–w Creek are Rangeline Flowage, Big Eau Pleine Reservoir, North Smoky Hill Flowage, Ten Pool, and Smoky Hill.

Considered long overdue, the DOI move is welcomed by state and area tribal leaders, who emphasized a very specific role in which they made their comments to Wausau Pilot & Review.

“Removing derogatory names from the landscape is long overdue and should be resonated throughout our great Nation if it impacts any nationality,” Ron Corn, chairman of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, told Wausau Pilot & Review. Speaking in his capacity as Chair of MITW, Corn added that he felt other Tribes in the state were supportive of the move.

Similarly, Tricia Zunker, Associate Justice on the Ho-Chunk Supreme Court, applauded the move.

“I commend Secretary Haaland’s efforts to eradicate racist and derogatory terms,” Zunker, speaking as a local Indigenous community leader and Ho-Chunk tribal member in the Wausau area, told Wausau Pilot & Review. “The ‘S word is a slur and particularly degrading and dehumanizing to Indigenous women.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources maintains a PDF list and an interactive map on its website of all locations being renamed.

Zunker recounted decades-long efforts to reach this point.

“Tribal leaders, tribal members and allies have been working for decades to have these racist names retired from use on ancestral lands,” she said. “This change doesn’t just matter to Native people and tribes – this matters in society, where no one should be deemed inferior.”

Zunker also said that “dehumanization of Indigenous people through slurs like this” and the MMIWG and MMIP are connected. MMIWG and MMIP refer to the high number of Indigenous women and girls and Indigenous people who are missing and never found or who are murdered.

Data from Amnesty International show 84% of Indigenous women experience violence in their lifetime. One in three Indigenous women will be raped in her lifetime. And 88% of the time, the perpetrators of violence and sexual assault against Indigenous women are non-Native.

Giovanni Rocco, Deputy Press Secretary at the DOI Secretary’s Office, provided a link to a press statement released November but said the department had no response to efforts by indigenous leaders to retire derogatory nicknames, mascots and logos from public schools.

According to the Wisconsin Indian Education Association (WIEA) ‘Indian’ Mascot and Logo Taskforce, more than 25 public schools still use such names statewide. Indigenous say these names perpetuate stereotypes against the tribes.

“The Menominee Tribe is on record supporting any and all institutions that journey down this path,” Corn said.