Thursday, September 07, 2006

Or would you rather be a shrew?

Sometimes sensitivity training has its funny moments. Take the Oregonian's editorial yesterday approving changing the name of Squaw Creek to the more "graceful" Sru Creek--pronounced "Shrew" Creek.

"Squaw," for instance, found on hundreds of streams, buttes, hills, meadows and other geographical features throughout the West (including, at one time, 89 creeks in Oregon) is one of those names that doesn't live up to contemporary standards of courtesy. Many Native American women see it as disrespectful, the equivalent of a stinging slap wherever it is found on the map.

We've argued for years that this derogatory word has to go, even at a cost of inconveniencing or disorienting many Oregonians. And, in 2001, the Oregon Legislature agreed it shouldn't be used in public place names. The U.S. Forest Service has worked painstakingly with tribes to find a range of graceful substitutes. After considerable back and forth, the Oregon Geographic Names Board recommended a host of changes to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

Recently, the national board approved the re-naming of Squaw Creek, two of its tributaries and Squaw Lake in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. These will now be known as Sru Creek and Sru Lake, meaning "grandmother" in one Native American language. Even though the word is usually pronounced "shrew," which could give this switch a different cast in English, this appears to be a good fit.

If popular meaning of a pronunciation doesn't matter, why not change the name to Skuah Creek--a possible graceful variation on the name for the beautiful arctic bird?

I think it's fine to change a name that is offensive, but it's laughable to change it to a name that's sure to be taken as more offensive than the original. I mean would you rather be called a shrew or a squaw?

The Oregonian not only thinks sru/shrew graceful, but a "good fit".

Most times one doesn't know whether to laugh or cry at the contortions in reasoning the editorial staff goes through to get to the desired end. This time it's just clearer which to do.

Along the same line: Ken at Upper Left Coast recently published a good post on Oregonian contortions bemoaning partisanship in state decisions (especially by Democrat Bill Bradbury), but pedestaling judges as a bastian of nonpartisanship.

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