Six Aroostook County locations renamed to remove racial slurs

Posted Sept. 05, 2011, at 7:37 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 05, 2011, at 9:24 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — It has taken more than 10 years, but recent place name changes approved by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names have removed the final racial slurs from Maine maps.

The six locations, all in Aroostook County, are now named Scopan, Scopan Inlet, Scopan Knob, Scopan Lake, Scopan Mountain and Scopan Stream.

The new names incorporate “sco” to replace the letters “squa,” a homonym of “squaw” that roughly translates to “whore” in the native dialects of Maine’s Native American tribes.

In 2000, then-Gov. Angus King signed a bill into law requiring place names using the word “squaw” to be changed. In 2009, the Maine Legislature went one step further and passed LD 797, “An Act to Fully Implement the Legislation to Prohibit Offensive Place Names,” that took into account alternate spellings of the word “squaw.”

“It was a long time coming,” John Dieffenbacher-Krall, executive director of the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission, said. “I think that reflects the relative importance — or lack of importance — non-natives put on issues concerning [native] people.”

There are four recognized native tribes within Maine’s borders: the Penobscot Indian Nation, the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and the Passamaquoddy.

All six of the renamed locations are within Aroostook’s Unorganized Territory, so it fell to the county commissioners to complete the project.

“My tribe was contacted by the Aroostook County commissioners asking for tribal representation,” Brian Reynolds, tribal administrator for the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, said. “I give kudos to the commissioners for contacting us early on so we could take part in the process.”

Reynolds said he consulted with tribal elders and linguistic experts for suggestions on new, culturally representative names.

At the same time, Reynolds said, the commissioners indicated to him they did not want to stray too far from the familiar with the new names.

“They told me they did not want to lose the feeling of the names,” he said. “But they also knew those existing names were really offensive.”

Paul Bernier, public works director for the Unorganized Territory in Aroostook County, was given the job of researching appropriate new names for the six locations.

“We got together some stakeholders from the tribes, town managers and other groups,” Bernier said. “We started to toss some names around and tried to stay as close as we could without being offensive.”

In the end, the commissioners went with names found on the oldest known map of Aroostook County in their possession.

“Scopan was on that old map,” Bernier said. “We decided to put that on the table and see how it would be received.”

While close to the existing pronunciation of the locations, tribal members involved in the process found no linguistic or blatant offensive connection to “sco.”

But Reynolds did say it did not go far enough.

“It still could be an English version of our word,” he said. “They really had good intentions to change the name and really did want to comply with the law, but in my view they only went halfway.”

The six locations were the last geographic place names in the state to meet the legislation’s compliance.

“That’s it, we’re done,” Dieffenbacher-Krall said, adding however, there is still work to be done when it comes to the use of native words or names in common culture.

“Sanford High School is still using Redskin as their mascot,” he said. “We are hopeful this year they will decide to change that.”

The recently renamed Aroostook County locations are:

• Scopan, located in the town of Masardis along US Route 11.

• Scopan Inlet, a 4-mile-long stream heading in to Castle Hill Township.

• Scopan Lake, located 14 miles southwest of Presque Isle.

• Scopan Stream, a 3.5-mile-long stream at the northwest end of Scopan Lake.

• Scopan Mountain, a 1,475-foot mountain 9.5 miles west-southwest of Presque Isle.

• Scopan Knob, the summit of Scopan Mountain.

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