BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Queen City is saying good-bye to Squaw Island and saying hello to Unity Island. Many people say Tuesday is a historic day for Native American women. For Jodi Lynn Maracle, The island’s former name is offensive.
She says it’s more then just a name, it’s what she will teach her kids about what’s right and whats wrong.
She says she will pass on her Native American heritage to her son, Mohawk will be his first language. She says the word “squaw is racist and sexist towards Native American women. “It stems from an era where settlers would come through and take our women and rape them. Once they were raped, they were only referred to by their genitals. So they were called that term,” she says.
She says to be a native woman living in a city is tough enough, without this daily racist reminder. She says, “It kind of makes you sick to your stomach and I’ve talked to people from older generations that have also grown up in Buffalo, and it always bothered them as well.” She says Buffalo needs to live up to its name “the city of good neighbors.” She spear headed a campaign for the name change. Tuesday, two years of work for this effort finally paid off. She says, “You can’t just be a city of good white neighbors, or a city of good- sometimes racist neighbors- you have to be a city of good neighbors to all peoples.” After several months of debate by council members and city residents, the group agreed on “Unity Island.” It was a unanimous vote by Buffalo’s Common Council. The vote followed a public hearing where all but one person supported the change.
Common Council President, Darius Pridgen, says, “The city is setting the example to others in the country, whether it be as one said a confederate flag, whether it be a name, when a group of people feel offended, someone should at least listen.”
At one time, the name being considered was “Divided Island,” Which is the original name for the island by the Senecas. Some thought this name wouldn’t bring people together, so they decided on “Unity” instead.