'Squaw' is listed and accepted as offensive, derogatory, racist, and misogynistic by the vast majority of modern sources and references. Stated differently, our name is generally accepted to include an offensive and derogatory slur.

Vincent Schilling is an associated editor with Indian Country Today who has written about the origins and meanings of the word. He said there’s some debate about the origins of the slur; some note it’s likely a derivative of the Algonquin word ‘esqua,’ which means young woman.

“Squaw was synonymous with the dirtiest words for female anatomy, that I won't use for purposes of being respectful,” Schilling said. “And I think you'd understand that one of the words starts with the letter C.”


Oxford Language Dictionary: “Offensive” “Disparaging and Offensive”

Merriam Webster: “Now, usually offensive” and “Dated, usually disparaging.”

American Heritage Dictionary: “Offensive”

Cambridge Dictionary: “now considered offensive by many people.”

Collins Dictionary: “Offensive”

Macmillan Thesaurus: “Offensive,” synonyms include “coon, colored, coolie, dago, and gypsy.”


Associated Press: “derogatory term”

Reno Gazette Journal: “derogatory term”

San Jose Mercury News: “derogatory term”

LA Times: “derogatory term”

Powder Magazine: “racial slur”

Snowbrains: “racial slur”

Sierra Sun: “deemed offensive”

Fox affiliates: “derogatory term”

Teton Gravity: “racial slur”

USA Today: “considered offensive”

London Telegraph: “racist slur”

What do Native Americans say?

Tribes and members of Tribes across North America have pushed to change squaw place names.

"The word itself is a constant reminder of the unjust treatment of the native people, of the Washoe people. It’s a constant reminder of those time periods when it was not good for us. It’s a term that was inflicted upon us by somebody else and we don’t agree with it.” - Darrel Cruz, Washoe Tribe Historic Preservation Office

"That was a way to break us down and to devalue us and view us not as humans so we would be easier to push out.” - Serrell Smokey, Washoe Tribe Chair

"The term is ‘one of four terms most offensive to Native Americans.'" - Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a retired Native American United States Senator born in Auburn, California

"Yes, I’m an Indigenous woman being honored in a hotel that is named after a slur used to describe Native American women as sex objects. It was painful to bring my Native sisters here to celebrate with me. This is one of the openly racist, anti-Native American terms that people still justify the use of.” - Gabriella Cazares-Kelly, Tohono O’odham

"It’s time to change the s-word on the street to match the name of Piestewa Peak. The s-word continues to be one that is highly derogatory and of the sexual nature to American Indian women, and one that continues to be used as a negative tool, as a weapon, to make us feel less than human.” - Patti Hibbeler, Salish/Kootenai

"For me, the term is racist and derogatory. It is meant to belittle somebody or belittle their worth. Historically it has been used to [mean] prostitution as well as sexual violence against women.” - Chauma Jansen, Navajo/Sioux/Assiniboine

"Over the past month I have struggled to find an answer considering the protests against change. This river, valley and communities are the reason we choose to live here. With these shared commonalities, my unanswered question to the protest argument is this: Why do you fight so hard, to offend the Native Methow People?” - Mark Miller, Methow

Etymology of the word "Squaw"

Early examples of the use of the word squaw, and the Princess vs. Squaw Stereotype, give insight into the common and longstanding derogatory use of the word.


"…the crafty ‘squaw’ … the squalid and withered person of this hag.” - James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans, 1826

"...the universal ‘squaw’ – squat, angular, pig-eyed, ragged, wretched, and insect-haunted.” - Lt. James W. Steele (Memoirs, 1883)

"By way of expressing their utter contempt for him they called him a ‘squaw’.’’ - Welcker, in Tales West, 1890


"A squaw is a “failed” princess, “who is lower than a bad White woman” - Bird, 1999, p. 73

"The squaw is the “darker twin” of Pocahontas and the “anti-Pocahontas.” - Valaskakis, 2005, p. 134

"Where the princess was beautiful, the squaw was ugly, even deformed. Where the princess was virtuous, the squaw was debased, immoral, a sexual convenience. Where the princess was proud, the squaw lived a squalid life of servile toil, mistreated by her men—and openly available to non-Native men.” - Francis (1995, pp. 121–122)

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