The word “Sq**w” has become known throughout North America as a racist slur that is deeply offensive to Indigenous people. When town councils are told this, they most frequently change the name in the hopes of reconciliation with Indigenous people. Not so in Beckwith Township near the nation’s capital.
“Based on the negative connotations of the word, perhaps changing the signage that is insulting to those of Indigenous teachings is a harmless way to honour those women who have died or have lived a life of abuse beneath the heel of the word “squaw”. There is a level of respect that is long overdue in the conversation around Indigenous women of North America. We have suffered long at the hands of colonial persecution, unfair suppressive practices and have for years, endured the use of disrespectful terms because we had to. This is a small thing to ask of our council in support of Indigenous people, and a wonderful way to honour Indigenous women for the tremendous amount of education and awareness work they bring to our community. – Colleen Gray, Metis Artist/ Founder of Art for Aid Project and resident of Beckwith Township (from her letter to Beckwith Council, 2019)
Lanark County Neighbours for Truth & Reconciliation approached the Beckwith township council in May of 2019 asking that the offensive road name Sq**w Point Road be changed. The township responded that the authority for the names of private roads was the road association. They agreed to inform the road association of our concerns. In August of 2020, the name of the road was officially changed to Monarch Road but implementation did not take place immediately.
On September 15th, 2020 a member of the road association who is a major property holder spoke at the township council meeting asking for the name change to be reversed. Beckwith Township subsequently contacted the County last week and requested that the road name be changed back.
This is a story that demonstrates how little people understand the implications of continuing to use Sq**w Point Road.
The road was named after Sq**w Point, a local geographic feature. The name of the Point was removed in 2003 when the Chiefs of Ontario and the Ontario Geographic Names Board identified it as offensive. The Ontario Geographic Names Board is currently considering a new name, “Anishinaabekwe Point;” a name we have also proposed for the road, and one that honours Algonquin women.
Using the Algonquin word Anishinaabekwe, which means an Anishinaabe woman would preserve the meaning of the road name as well as the history of the place, which was apparently an issue of concern to the local landowner who opposed the name change. It would remove the racist connotations of the word sq**w – a word which, although originally an Indigenous word imbued with respect, has been utilized in a derogatory fashion for centuries and carries a heavy burden of misogynist and racist innuendo. In times when communities are struggling with disproportionate numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirited people, they should not be reinstating a name that in the mouths of colonists has been used to demean and diminish the foundational role of Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirited people in the lives and governance of their communities.
The history of violence against Indigenous women goes back to early days of colonization. The report of the national inquiry on Indigenous Missing & Murdered Women, Girls & Two Spirit People in Canada outlines the horrific story of women who have been murdered and brutally raped, many of whom are still missing to this day. The report, including calls for action, can be found at https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/final-report/.
What do parents tell their children about the meaning of the word Sq**w? Do they tell them never to use it, even though it is sanctioned by this local government? Do children use it on the playground as a derogatory term? The cycle of racism must be broken. Removing these offensive words is a necessary step in making this world safer for Indigenous women.
The local landholder who complained says that he appreciates the historical value of the word. Perhaps he harkens back to the stories of Algonquin women who helped settlers survive the first winter, who treated the sick and raised their children when they had no one to care for them. If this is the case, then he should have no problem with using Anishinaabekwe instead. There are many ways to honour the ancestors but it is not acceptable to use racist slurs. We request that Beckwith township re-consider its decision and replace the offensive road name with one that accurately and respectfully represents the history of the area.
On behalf of Lanark County Neighbours for Truth & Reconciliation