If this column sounds bitter and angry, that’s because I am.
They say, “History is written by the winners,” and once again we women – sweet, complacent things that we are – have handed the menfolk a victory on a silver platter.
I’m talking about the renaming of Squaw Bay, as decided by the men – and ably abetted by their witless female colleagues — of the Dane County Board and the Madison and Monona city councils.
Once again, they’ve managed to write women out of the history books and erase us from maps.
Squaw Bay, as I’ve written before, may be named after a real Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) woman: Sarah Wood, (Ho-Chunk name “E nou kah”) who was married to Abe Wood, Monona’s first white settler.
Abe and Sarah settled on the shore of what would become Squaw Bay in 1837. She had a daughter, Hannah Tower, from a previous marriage; together, she and Abe produced another girl, Margaret.
Abe helped build Madison’s first building, Eben Peck’s cabin.
Abe eventually moved on (he is also known as the “father of Baraboo’’), but Sarah and her daughters stayed for awhile on the shore of the lake. She was beloved by both white settlers and her fellow Ho-Chunk for her strength, courage, knowledge and generosity.
Side note: Sarah was the great-granddaughter of Glory of the Morning, first female chief of the Ho-Chunk and the only woman named in the first history of Wisconsin. Glory of the Morning lived to be more than 100 years old, dying in 1832.
Shortly before her death, she met with a white woman named Juliette Kinzie, who described the meeting in her book, “Wau-Bun.”
Kinzie went on to found the Chicago Historical Society. Kinzie’s granddaughter, Juliette Gordon Low, founded the Girl Scouts of America.
(But hey, that’s just women’s history, so nobody cares.)
There were many other Ho-Chunk women who lived on Squaw Bay as well. White settlers called the area Strawberry Point or Indian Gardens.
It was where the Ho-Chunk women grew crops, cooked food, gathered traditional medicines, birthed babies, raised children and kept the home fires burning.
To the Ho-Chunk women, it was a “female place.”
Tribe members continued to camp there into the 20th century.
It was named Squaw Bay in the 1860s by the captain of a boat who ran excursions between Madison and Monona. Sarah and her daughters were long gone by then, so maybe the word “squaw” was a generic reference to the many Ho-Chunk women who lived and worked here.
The reason for renaming Squaw Bay is that, while the word “squaw” is not obscene in Ho-Chunk or any other Native American language, some white settlers used the word in a vulgar way.
Dr. Margaret Bruchac, a University of Pennsylvania professor of anthropology, says: Get over it.
Bruchac is an “alnobaskwa,” or female member of the Abenaki tribe of the northeast United States.
“Any word can hurt when used as a weapon,” she writes. “Banning the word will not erase the past, and will only give the oppressors the power to define our language.
“If we accept the slander and internalize the insult, we discredit our female ancestors who felt no shame at hearing the word. To ban indigenous words discriminates against Native people and their languages.”
(She should shut up. She’s just a girl!)
A local politician assures me that the Ho-Chunk historic preservation officer and the Ho-Chunk Traditional Court are all on board with changing the name to Wicawak – which means “muskrat” – Bay.
(Of course they are: They’re all men.)
They’ve got no problem disremembering women’s contributions to history in favor of a disease-carrying rodent whose burrows contribute to shoreline erosion and sedimentation.
But what will Monona do about the name Winnequah, which is a contraction of “Winnebago squaw?”
(Stay tuned: I’m sure some man will come up with the answer!)
Rather than rename Squaw Bay, I would prefer that Dane County, the city of Monona and the Ho-Chunk tribe erect a statue of a Ho-Chunk woman on the shore of the bay.
By doing so, they could memorialize a real woman and pay homage to the role that women, both Native American and white, played in the history of Wisconsin, Dane County and the entire United States.
But they’d rather go with a rodent.
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