There’s a difference between being right and doing right. An enclave in the coastal town of Stockton Springs is having trouble understanding this concept.

A homeowners’ association there, SquawPoint, has been smacked with a human rights complaint for failing to comply with a seven-year-old Maine law prohibiting “squaw” in the name of a public place. Dozens of other names have been challenged under the law, and all have been changed.

This neighborhood is the last holdout.

Instead of changing its name, it’s made a laughable attempt at incremental legality, offering to move from Squaw to Squa to, now, Squall Point in a vainglorious attempt to silence its critics.

It’s not working. Nor should it.

“This is about people in the state of Maine feeling harmed or hurt,” says John Diffenbacher-Krall, the executive director of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission. “Why can’t they accept this on the face of that?” His job, in part, is to foster relationships between government and the tribes, which have been strained in recent years.

A key step in this is abandoning vile slurs insulting Native Americans. Squaw’s meaning is clear: it’s a synonym for whore, hurled at Indian women during the heady times of the westward expansion. But if we, as a society, can get beyond using phrases of intolerance, we can build unity.

In 2000, we supported the legislation that stripped “squaw” from Maine’s place names. Since then, everyone approached by the tribes with this sensible proposal has agreed. Except this one association, which seems to be on a misguided mission to have the last word in this naming conflict.

It should consider the spoils of this battle. If it succeeds with Squall Point, the association will have fought to preserve its right to have the neighborhood’s identity remain linked to a savage word which, at best, means “prostitute.”

What a victory. Especially given the alternative is making the bold, progressive statement many others before them have done: ditching the offensive squaw (and all its derivatives), to respect the feelings of others.

Poetic, lilting names have been suggested as options for the association, such as Mankwanee, the Penobscot name of a 16-year-old tribal girl tragically killed in a recent car crash. It means “rainbow,” and it’s lovely.

But nobody is demanding an Indian name as a replacement. The association can change into anything it wishes, as long as the new name is a clear diversion from its current title. (Not changing two letters to ensure legal compliance.)

A meeting about this issue is set for Oct. 18. If the assocation sticks with Squall Point, it can say it’s right.

But nobody can say it’s doing the right thing.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.