Controversy over Squaw Peak


    By Annie Reynolds

    To the average Provo resident, the word “squaw” in the name of Provo Canyon”s Squaw Peak is not offensive. But Venita Taveapont, language program coordinator for the Ute Tribe, said for Native Americans the word directly translates to the female reproductive organ, making the name Squaw Peak undoubtedly crude and offensive.

    Many states are changing geographic names of places that have the word “squaw” to be more sensitive to Native Americans.

    In Phoenix, their Squaw Peak mountain was changed to Piestewa Peak in 2003 to honor Lori Piestewa, a Hopi Tribe member who was the first woman soldier to be killed in Iraq. Other states changing names include Minnesota, Montana, Maine, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Oregon.

    Although a request for a name change hasn”t been presented against the Provo Squaw Peak, the Ute Indian Tribe, located in the Fort Duchesne area, finds the use of the word to be insulting and would like to see it changed.

    “This is a word that doesn”t belong in the English language,” Taveapont said. “Its offensive to me as a woman and as a Native American.”

    Taveapont is a member of the Ute Indian Tribe. The tribe is the largest in Utah, with 3,500 members living in four major communities.

    Although the Tribe is not located in Provo, Taveapont still feels strong ties to the area.

    “These are ancestral lands and are still a part of our home,” she said.

    Recently, Taveapont was driving through the canyon with a friend and they saw the Squaw Peak sign. They began discussing the context of it, and Taveapont”s friend questioned why the sign hasn”t been taken down yet.

    “I wish there would be [a change],” Taveapont said. “It is something that needs to be changed for the times. It should be offensive to any woman in the state.”

    Rae Damon, a UVSC student from Pleasant Grove, is part Navajo and part Sioux. Damon said she also believes the name of the mountain is offensive. But even she would not have known it was offensive if she had not learned the meaning of the word through her mother, a very traditional Native American.

    “I know what it means, but I know a lot of people who don”t know what it means,” Damon said.

    Damon remembers not knowing the meaning of the word “squaw” and watching Disney”s Peter Pan with her little brothers. The word is used repeatedly and innocently throughout the animated cartoon.

    “My mom sat us down, and told us, ”It”s a derogatory word and we don”t use that in this house”,” Damon said.

    Although Damon finds the name Squaw Peak to be offensive, she won”t be taking any steps to change it.

    “I was raised in a different culture. I”m tolerant of it,” Damon said. “I would like to see it changed, but its not enough to make me want to go get it done.”

    Damon is one of many who are tolerant of the name.

    Loyal Clark, spokesperson for Uinta National Forest, said the Forest Service hasn”t been approached to have the name changed. Clark said maybe the reason is that most of the tribes who work with the Forest Service do not live in the Provo area.

    Clark said if a person did request the name to be changed, the Forest Service would ask them to write a letter stating their disfavor with the current name and making suggestions for new names. The Uinta Forest Service would then discuss it with the local forest supervisor and specialist. Then the Forest Service will submit a letter to the United States Geological Survey, Clark said.

    In 1995, the USGS board was asked to change the names of any geographic location that used the word “squaw.”

    The board investigated the issue, conducted interviews and sent out forms to various Native American tribes requesting their comments and opinions.

    After analyzing the results, the board determined there was no word that would be universally acceptable and could replace the word “squaw.” The board decided to leave it up to individual states and areas to decide if the name of a place should be changed.

    The USGS Survey concluded that many tribal councils would rather replace the word “squaw” with another word in their native language in order to preserve the cultural heritage.

    The Uinta Forest Service has preserved culture by naming many locations with words that are borrowed from the Uintah tribe language. Although Squaw Peak is not one of those, it does have a historical background with the Ute Indian Tribe.

    According to historians, Squaw Peak was named after a fight occurred between the Ute Indians and settlers in 1850. One of the Ute”s leader, Big Elk, took a group of natives into the canyon to escape the settlers, but were pursued by the small militia of Mormons and forty-niners.

    After a brief conflict, the troops returned from the canyon reporting that they had killed one Indian, wounded another, and that Big Elk”s wife had killed herself when she fell from a precipice. The woman killed was said to be young, beautiful and intelligent.

    Michael Mower, director of community and governmental relations said, “Squaw Peak was named to honor her and her life.”

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