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“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." JRR Tolken

Month: November, 2011

The “Squaw” Word

This is a project I worked on for class. I needed a way to publish the article online for access reasons so I chose my blog as that forum.

The “Squaw” Word

By: Amy Harris

 The Lions, the Bears and the Indians all have historical significance in the mascot world. But what if it was the Dogs, the Jews and the Asians? Or the Whities, the Blacks and the Seawolves? Years of misrepresentation via the media, history books and story telling have shaped stereotypes and ideas of Native Americans. It’s hard to see the use of native symbols and people as mascots or the use of specific native words as offensive when Native American culture is characterized as a cute, cartoon-like remembrance of a vanished people.

Until the 1970s Stanford’s mascot was the Indian. Scott Slovic, a professor of Native American Literature at the University of Nevada, Reno, said the mascot basically called natives animals. “You had the Lions, the Bears and the Indians. This doesn’t seem quite right,” Slovic said. “You really classify a group of people as animals.” The use of Native American symbols by mainstream America doesn’t end with headdress wearing college mascots.

The warrior mascot is a simplified and romanticized remembrance of the stereotyped noble savage Indian. This reimagining of native people also extends to language. The word squaw was redefined by white settlers who took it from its eastern Algonquin roots as a word that originally meant female, and used it as a derogatory word used to insult native women.

This specific word, with non-pejorative roots, has received increased scrutiny for its offensive use and meaning created by settlers. For years activists have fought to remove the word “squaw” from place names in America. Marybeth Nevins, an anthropology professor at UNR, said the settlers meaning has replaced the original meaning of the word. “Squaw is an Algonquin term,” Nevins said. “But the predominate meaning is the settlers meaning, it is pejorative as its been used in the settlers context.”

In an article in USA Today, a council member with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho, Montana and Washington, Valerie Fast Horse, said squaw is an insulting term for female genitalia used to describe loose or shameful women. Many states, including Maine and Arizona, passed laws requiring replacement names for places with offensive titles. Lynda Shoshone, who works in the Washo language department, also finds the word offensive. “I personally do not like the word,” Shoshone said. “If anyone called me that they would be in a heap of trouble.”

The problem with the word squaw is in the way it’s used, or has been used historically. Marg Bruchac from the University of Connecticut writes extensively on the controversy surrounding the word. In an essay she wrote in 1999 she said “the insult was in the usage, not in the original word. Any word can hurt when used as a weapon. Banning the word will not erase the past, and will only give the oppressors power to define our language.” Bruchac argues that the original meaning of the word should be reclaimed instead of erasing it. “It makes no sense for Native people to cling to and accept a wrong translation. We must stop now and educate, rather than tolerate the loss of our language due to ignorance.”

Bruchac received so many threats after writing this piece that she wrote another essay addressing those who sent her hate mail and threats of physical abuse. In her response she advocated for the same reclamation of squaw’s original meaning. She said the controversy over the word served as an opportunity to educate people about the colonial appropriation of native symbols and language. Instead of eradicating the word, she promotes recovering native place names. “We can educate the general public to understand the marvelous diversity of our histories, languages, homelands and cultures,” she wrote. “Instead of stereotyping all Indians as western plains warriors in feather headdresses.”

The controversy over the word within the native community makes it hard to navigate a solution to the many place names in America that still include the word. One local example is Squaw Valley. The famous ski resort held the 1960s Olympics and is hoping to bid for the 2022 Olympics. Squaw Valley is globally recognized and privately owned and can therefore call itself whatever it wants, and as Slovic said, “The Olympics already happened at Squaw Valley, so I doubt they’d change the name because of political correctness.”

But the word squaw itself is geographically inappropriate in California. “It’s an eastern word that was never a word for California tribes,” Slovic said. “The geographical association of a word is also a form of inaccuracy.” The important questions to ask, Slovic said, are what did the people who were in that place call it? How did the name come about and what did it replace? And most importantly, how do people native to this area feel about the word?

Some of these questions are easier to answer than others. Shoshone’s reaction represents a negative association with the word from the Washo tribe. “If I was called a squaw it would be fighting words,” Shoshone said. “This was the white mans term for us and they didn’t consider us as anything much better than dogs.” She reiterated that it’s in the way the word is used that makes it offensive. “I could call you an angel and make you feel like I’m saying something nasty to you,” she said. “It is in the way white people interpret the word, it’s generally known that you don’t call a woman a squaw.”

During the late 1990s and early 2000s Shoshone said the Washo tribe discussed changing the name of Squaw Valley. Thy chose the name Ta’mo’mo, which is the Washo word for woman. Since then the discussion lost steam as leaders changed and other issues took precedence. And so the valley remains Squaw Valley. White Settlers brought the word squaw from the east and noticed that many native women lived in the valley (the men were traditionally engaged in hunting in the high passes). The name came from settlers literal expression of what they saw in the area: a valley full of native women, or Squaw Valley.

The traditional name of the valley is hard to find. In Louis Owens’ book Mixedblood Messages he said he didn’t know the native name for Squaw Valley, but the traditional word for Lake Tahoe roughly translated into, “the life sustaining water, the center of the world.” He said the traditional Washo name for Squaw Valley “would have called up particular values and stories for those who uttered it: stories of hunting, camping, exciting trading journeys, stories involving grandfathers and grandmothers, stories of love and, undoubtedly, warfare.”

Owens clearly shows that the renaming of a place and the redefining of a word not only replaces native names but also native stories. The chapter in Owens’ book that includes a discussion of Squaw Valley is really about the power of words. “Traditional Native American stories tell us that words are powerful and sacred, that words bring into being and compel and order the world,” he wrote. “Words are powerful creators, and they can be powerful destroyers.”

Controversy surrounds the word squaw and the most important voices on this issue are native voices, Nevins said. The issue with the word squaw is not just its derogatory use by settlers, but also its replacement of traditional native names. Replacing the name of a place symbolizes a reclaiming of culture and history. Bruchac suggests not only redefining the word squaw, but also remembering the historical, native names for places.

Ta’mo’mo wasn’t the traditional name of Squaw Valley, but the name connects the valley to the people who occupied the area for thousands of years before settlers claimed the land. “Squaw” tells the story of misplacement and white settlement while Ta’mo’mo tells the story of the Washo tribe and its women. Changing the name of Squaw Valley doesn’t dominate Washo tribe discourse these days, but Shoshone would still like to see the word squaw disappear from place names. “Get rid of the name,” she said. “Native women would be glad to see it replaced.”


Lemon Glazed Ginger Cake

 My whole house filled with the smell of gingerbread as this cake  baked to a deep golden brown in the oven. This is a new recipe, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised to bite into a rich and flavorful cake with an extra flaky and crispy crust. The glaze gives just a little bit of lemon sweetness without being overly sweet while the minced ginger gives some bites a little spicy warmth. I’ve made different types of banana and zucchini breads, but this is one of the best breads/cakes I’ve made.

 Lemon Glazed Ginger Cake

2 cups white whole-wheat flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 ½ tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 eggs
¼ cup honey
½ cup butter
¼ cup molasses

1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
3 tsp lemon juice

 Oven 350. Mix the flour, baking soda and spices in a medium bowl. Mix the eggs, butter, honey and molasses in a separate bowl. Mix the wet and dry ingredients until just combined. Fill two small buttered bread pans (or one large) and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Let the cakes cool completely before glazing them. To make the glaze whisk the sugars with the lemon juice. Drizzle the glaze over the cakes and enjoy.

Butternut Squash and Black Bean Tacos

I like incorporating squash into every meal while its so plentiful and this worked beautifully. The squash is very sweet, so I like to make sure my tortillas and kale are extra salty to off set the sweetness. I put cilantro on almost everything, it just adds a level of complexity and freshness to my meals. The vibrant orange of the squash, black beans, green kale and cilantro looked really beautiful, all of the colors acting as the expression of fall and hearty, healthy meals. I ate these straight from the cast iron. This is the best when the house is cold as it keeps the food nice and hot (and you don’t have to get another plate dirty). 

Butternut Squash and Black Bean Tacos

2 corn tortillas
1 small yellow onion sliced
¼ cup black beans
1-cup butternut squash cubed
1 handful kale
Raw cheddar
Salt & pepper
Greek yogurt or crème fraiche
Olive oil
Lemon juice

 Soak beans for 24 hours. I usually make a cup or two, and soak them in about 5 cups of water. After soaking, drain the water. Add new water and bring to a boil. Turn off burner once they boil, then let sit for a few hours. They’re ready when they feel soft.

Oven 400. Cut the skin off the butternut squash and cut into cubes. Drizzle these with olive oil, salt & pepper. Roast in the oven until tender, about 20 minutes or so. Meanwhile, sauté the onion in a cast iron, add the beans after a few minutes and cook on  medium-high for a few minutes. Remove the onion and beans from the pan and add more oil.

Place the tortillas in the oil and set a few slices of cheddar on them. Add the roasted butternut squash, the beans and onion, and finally rip up the kale and place it on top. Squeeze a little lemon juice on top, sprinkle with a drizzle of oil, salt and pepper. Roast the tacos at 400 for around 10 or 15 minutes, until the kale is crispy.

Garnish with plenty of cilantro and Greek yogurt.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

This is a very comforting and filling recipe that also happens to be very easy. There are more complicated variations of this recipe, but I wouldn’t change anything. The sauteed kale, squash and meat pair very well when this meal comes together, but it is the wine, balsamic and beef broth that take this dish to a whole new level of complexity. Make sure to use good wine when you cook, especially when you’re drinking that same wine with the meal.

Braised Beef Short Ribs:

5 Short ribs
1/2 large butternut squash, peeled and diced into cubes
1 red onion chopped
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cups good red wine
3 cups beef broth
sea salt & pepper
olive oil
Handful kale, stems removed
lemon juice

Take the short ribs out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before you start cooking. Season them generously with salt and pepper. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Sear the meat on both sides for a few minutes, until browned.

Meanwhile set the oven at 350. Remove the meat and add the chopped onion and squash cubes. Sauté until the onion and squash are slightly caramelized, about 8 minutes. Pour in the balsamic and wine, turn the heat on high and reduce for about 6 minutes. Add the beef broth and bring to a boil. Transfer the contents in the Dutch oven to a large cast iron skillet. Set the short ribs in the liquid, cover with aluminum foil (or a cookie sheet if you don’t have foil) and braise in the oven for about 2 hours or so.

Just before removing the ribs from the oven, heat olive oil in a skillet. Add the kale, season with salt and lemon juice, and cover for about 5 minutes, or until the kale is steamed and wilted.
Enjoy with the same wine you cooked with.

Glimpses of Eden

My friend sent me a message about how sad she was Las Tortugas music festival didn’t happen this year. In my nostalgic state I revisited a story I wrote about the festival and its connection to happiness and values in society. I wanted to finally share that story here.

Glimpses of Eden and the Value of Being
By: Amy Harris

Anytime you leave for a music festival, your car overflowing with camping gear, costumes, booze and food you’re putting faith in the event. Faith in a magical experience and some salvation from the everyday rush of life. Some live shows suggest a better world exists and we watch them in a starry eyed state of content intoxication promising to see them whenever we have the chance. We chase these bands hoping to enliven our spirits and alter our worldview.

The fifth annual Las Tortugas Dance of the Dead music festival gave its attendants the chance to leave home for a long weekend, turn off their cell phones, skip work or school, say goodbye to amenities like beds and indoor kitchens, and set up camp on the edge of the forest. Hundreds of people gathered unable to deny the shared sense of camaraderie the small festival provided. This glimpse of Eden encouraged us to emerge from the shell of anxiety and responsibility accompanying us in everyday life. We made friends with strangers, complimented musicians in person, invited epiphanies, and welcomed the majestic sensation of feeling the music inside, through, and around us.

Complex intertwining music would start out melancholy and eerie and shift into upbeat, quick tempo jams making your skin crawl. The rhythms were absent during midmorning and made the campground feel eerily silent. But the ghost of music, dancing, and sweet sweat lingered in the air willing us to bring it back to life each day and night. As Tortugan’s fed off each other’s blissful energy, leaving the dreamlike world didn’t feel like an option. The beauty of Yosemite, the music, and the exuberant people filled us with happiness and appreciation. Why wasn’t this real life? This question remains, pounding sinisterly and more powerfully the longer I’m removed from Yosemite.

The Value of Being

Most people are searching for paradise and when we experience a glimmer of it we wonder why everyday life is fraught with events contributing more to anxiety than happiness. The amity among the unique group of people made the festival feel like it belonged to a small world of a few hundred privileged souls. “It was obvious that anyone who was willing to drive that far out into the woods to camp in the cold for four days was there for a reason,” Jake Baker said. “And that reason was to enjoy amazing music, meet amazing people, and have the most fun possible. I want to go back next year because I feel like I’m part of a family now. The Las Tortugas family.”

Maybe we are missing this sense of closeness in our lives. I was shocked when I returned and instead of a gracious smile and friendly hello from each passerby I was confronted with students talking on their cell phones, or worse nearly walking into me as they texted. Experiencing a challenging reentry into reality after events like music festivals, Burning Man, and retreats is a common feeling. Burning Man offers its burners decompression events, which provide the same sense of community as the event with art, stories, and photos from the playa. Without decompression, returnees from other events relentlessly read reviews, look nostalgically at photographs, and relive the highlights through storytelling with their friends.

Talking to psychologists seemed to be the natural next step to understand why real life often feels less fulfilling than perspective altering events. Holly Hazlett-Stevens, Ph.D., built off the first question I asked when I returned home: why can’t real life be like the festival? Looking around at the market driven and capitalistic culture we are constantly told if we had this extra thing life might be better, Stevens said. There is a fundamental dissatisfaction with how things are and this dissatisfaction is part of the human condition. “The problem is our difficulty in accepting this moment for what it is,” Stevens said. “Acceptance allows us to acknowledge things as they are right now.”

Acceptance, of course, was exactly the problem I was having. My only acknowledgement was realizing this place was not as wonderful as the festival.  But Stevens reminded me the experience opened the door for me to be fully aware and present in my surroundings. The sense of camaraderie I felt at Las Tortugas exists in everyday life and our individuality does not negate our connectedness. “On one hand each of us is an individual,” Stevens said. “We are individual beings, but the notion of separateness is an allusion. We’re all somewhat dependent on each other.”

Our age is marked by an increased reliance on technology and decreased interaction in the same physical space, where the joke about someone who can text constantly but not have a face-to-face conversation is commonplace. “Technology is distancing us from our natural experience and contributing to this new age source of separation and lack of connection,” Stevens said. “The essential core of being alive and happy rests in our value of being.” This “value of being” is based more on our senses and body than our minds. But fully experiencing each moment and feeling each sense comes much more naturally to people at events like festivals and Burning Man. In everyday life, Stevens asked, “How often do you eat a meal, and just eat the meal?” Las Tortugas felt like experiencing a meal fully. Each mouthful of music and conversation savored, each person and scenery regarded for its unique flavor, and each moment marveling my senses.

Because of the emotional conditioning of our culture, being fully present and experiencing each sensation in the present moment with a sense of acceptance goes against our habitual state. We have real environmental demands necessitating planning. Our ability to think ahead and strive toward achievements has facilitated our survival, Stevens said. “The trick is to engage in whatever you’re doing. How can you do whatever you do in your life whether you’re eating, doing the dishes, or taking a shower in a mindful and present way?” Buddhist and other spiritual teachings provide practices to help people achieve this kind of connection and acceptance. But, coming back to technology, we are continually bombarded with distractions. The computer, for example, entices our minds to be all over the place instead of fully invested in what we’re doing, Stevens said.

Who’s to Blame?

Full investment in each activity and sensation allows us to enjoy and accept the present moment, or at least feel alive, in life. But I kept wondering if our society promotes anxiety and stress more than fulfillment and well being. Anthony Papa, Ph.D., put this question of individuality versus society into perspective for me. “Happiness is an individual thing you have to manage yourself,” Papa said. “I’m not sure how society could get you to appreciate how beautiful the Sierra’s are. We don’t always pay attention and step back to notice our surroundings.”

Situations influencing our sense of connection are not always the paradise-like music festivals or week long excursions into the desert. Papa was living in New York City during 9/11 and said he felt a sense of connection and community for the first time after the attacks. Though the attack was devastating, there was shared sense of loss, thankfulness for survivors, and powerful citywide unity. “Some situations force you to pay attention,” Papa said. “They are life altering and you wonder, why can’t it be like this all the time?”

Traumatic events, like 9/11, or Utopic festivals, like Las Tortugas, force us to pay attention to values like connectedness, kindness, and contentment. Feeling less separation with the natural world and other people has larger social implications. “If you feel like you’re part of a greater whole, some behaviors, like bullying, are buffered,” Stevens said. “Hurting someone else is like your left hand hurting your right hand, it just doesn’t make sense.” What does make sense is paying attention. This does not imply a constant festival state without adversity, for we are constantly facing challenges. But paying attention implies pleasures, like eating and showering, can be experienced with deeper satisfaction. Our sense of place in the world is rooted in a feeling of belonging and the events providing this deeper sense of connection verge on the spiritual. Each day, no matter what you are experiencing can provide this kind of sensation in belonging, Stevens said, “everything you do can be a meditation if meditation is a general word for paying attention.”

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