Ugly squaw word exiting Oklahoma

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RED ROCK, Okla. - Squaw. No matter how you say it, the word is ugly. It is offensive to Native American people and even more offensive to Native women.

Squaw has been used to name everything from mountains to fish in the United States, but in Oklahoma the word is disappearing.

Oklahoma Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 94 passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously. It mandates that all geographic features in the state of Oklahoma that carry the name 'Squaw' are to be renamed because of the offensive nature of the word.

The removal idea started out small. Red Rock, Okla., is a town of fewer than 350 people, 65 percent of them American Indian. The Otoe-Missouria Tribe has offices just outside the city limits.

A small creek, less than two miles long, has carried the name 'Squaw Creek' for as long as anyone can remember. "People didn't like the name Squaw Creek," recalls Red Rock Mayor Geary Watson. "They had to cross a bridge with the nameplate Squaw Creek on it for years, but they didn't know how to change it.

"Finally in April, I wrote a letter to J. Berry Harrison our state senator. He took it from there."

To the amazement of the people of Red Rock, not only did the state of Oklahoma decide that Squaw Creek's name would be changed, but that the word squaw was to be removed from every geographical feature in the state!

"I never realized how many places had the name squaw on them in Oklahoma" Watson said.

Watson, Choctaw, one of only two Native American mayors in Oklahoma, said he couldn't believe how fast the legislation was passed into law.

"We wrote the letter on April 5 and by May 10 we got word that it was done."

The fact the state moved so quickly, once asked, made Watson proud of Oklahomans. "I hope this says something for our people. We still have controversies over compacts with the state, taxes and stuff, bingo halls. But all in all, I described a word ... and the state took it from there."

What will the creek be renamed? Watson said he wasn't sure, but a meeting is scheduled to discuss options. All he knows for sure is that squaw won't be anywhere in the name.

Red Rock feels good about its victory Watson said. "We told them that it affected not just this area, but the whole state. It is really a victory for the 39 tribes here in Oklahoma. After reading about Montana, it took two years for them to get it done. We didn't have that kind of problem here."

Thanks to the 'mouse that roared' in Red Rock, Okla., Native Americans no longer have to see the offensive name Squaw on any more bridges or state signs. Mayor Watson is proud that his small town was able to make such a big change.