Community News

Should ‘Squaw Island’ in Canandaigua Lake get a new name?

News 8 WROC in Rochester interviewed Dr Joe Stahlman, director of the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum, about a naming controversy taking place in the Town of Canandaigua.

By Jack Watson | Aug 26, 2020 | Reprinted from

CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. (WROC) — The Town of Canandaigua considered a measure that would express support for a name change for what is currently called Squaw Island, a small island within Canandaigua Lake.

Last Monday, the Canandaigua Town Board tabled a version of the measure due to concerns over the specific language within the resolution.

The word “Squaw,” some argue, is offensive and disparaging to Native Americans, specifically Native American women.

Dr. Joe Stahlman

“For us, it’s really a simple answer,” said Dr. Joe Stahlman, Director of the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum.

Stahlman says the Mayor of the City of Canandaigua, which is located within the Town, reached out to the Seneca Nation about the island’s name. The City Council voted to indicate its support for changing the name earlier this month.

“It’s derogatory, right, it’s almost like a cuss word. It’s almost like a slur towards women. And so, with that removed, that helps us be at ease,” said Stahlman.

Some believe the name should stay. An online petition has about 600 signatures as of Wednesday, urging officials not to change the name.

“It shows the respect and honor of the Braves who protected their most precious loved ones,” the petition reads. “Please sign this petition to stop this action and preserve the name Squaw Island.”

According to Professor Michael Oberg, an expert in Native American studies, the word became an offensive term.

“In Algonquian languages, the name was associated with women and femininity. Over time it was adopted by settlers, and it became attached with certain pejorative and sexualized meanings that were denigrating to Native peoples.”

“Canandaigua does a lot of things well with regards to its Native American heritage,” continued Oberg. “And it sounds like, from the vote, they’re trying to do the right thing here, too. I don’t know what they should change the name to, but I think that’s a great opportunity to bring different people together and have a conversation,” Oberg said.

News 8 reached out to the Town of Canandaigua for a comment and did not receive a response.