CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. (WROC) — A small island within Canandaigua Lake officially has a new name.
Officials from the U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved a proposal recently to change the name of Squaw Island in the Town of Canandaigua to Skenoh Island. Canandaigua City Council adopted the resolution in August 2020 for the name change and the federal agency approved it on October 14, 2021.
According to federal officials, the name “Skenoh” means peace in the Onöndowa’ga (Seneca) language.
The effort to rename the island began last summer, after some expressed the word “Squaw” was offensive and disparaging to Native Americans, specifically Native American women.
“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,” Dr. Joe Stahlman, Director of the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum, told News 8 in 2020.
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.”
According to federal officials, the island’s name change will be updated in the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), the nation’s official geographic names repository. They say the database is currently being upgraded and will be offline until later this fall.