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Renaming of Squaw Island appears likely

Mike Desmond/WBFO News

It a near certainty that Buffalo's Squaw Island will soon have a new name, but it's not certain what the name will be or when the change will come.The Common Council was approached about changing the name, with Native American activists saying the word squaw is demeaning to American Indians, especially to Indian women. Suggestions include a reversion to the old Seneca name Deyowenoguhdoh, which translates as Divided Island.

It's an old debate, with enrolled Seneca Agnes Williams saying this fight has been going on for years, citing decades spent trying to change the name of the resort area Squaw Valley. Williams says the first essential is getting rid of the current name.

"We definitely want to get rid of the word squaw and we have been talking in our communities. We've gotten to our language people because we feel like we are the people who were put here originally by God. He didn't put anyone else here . We have lived here forever. We are Haudenosaunee," said Williams.

Williams says those language experts are trying to come up with an exact pronunciation and exact spelling. Even if the Council votes to change the name, there are other levels of government involved, since Washington is likely going to have to sign off on a change.

"I think it's an interesting name for the island, going back to the past. Once upon a time, for several hundred years, that's what the island was called," said councilman Joe Golombek.

The situation will be discussed next Tuesday during a meeting of the Legislation Committee and at a later public hearing.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.