I hope this creates a smile for you as it did for me. While enjoying your magazine at my desk (on which I keep a few favorite quotations in view) I turn the page … and there’s a fox sitting on the railroad track. A full smile comes on as I look at the fox and then read Will Rogers’ quote nearby. Cheers to Life in the Finger Lakes!
— John Marsellus, Fayetteville
The new name that is Skenoh Island
Laurel Wemett’s well-written piece in the September/October ‘23 edition – Skenoh-Island for the Ages – was of considerable interest to me, because I used to play on and around that little island as a boy in the 40s and 50s, and knew its fabled history as a place of refuge for the Native American women who hid there in an attempt to avoid capture or worse by the forces of the Sullivan Expedition back in 1779. In fact, the story was often brought up in the history lessons taught in both the elementary school and at Canandaigua Academy.
Now I see that its name has been changed from Squaw Island to Skenoh, which has been translated to mean “peace” in the Seneca dialect. The stated reason: back in 2021, then-Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland had determined that the word “squaw” was not only a derogatory term, but “harmful,” she declared.
This bit of revisionist history bothers me, because it not only flies in the face of what I was taught years ago in Canandaigua’s school system, but it strikes me as an attempt to change the history of the place to something much more benign than what it actually was, which was a regional state of war.
— Respectfully, John Winthrop, Cayucos, California
We turned to a local authority, Dr. Preston Pierce, the author of Small wonder: Squaw Island, Canandaigua Lake for his input.
There has been a growing national concern with words and symbols commonly used in connection with Native Americans for many years that are considered disrespectful or inappropriate. One of them is “squaw.” While I am not completely certain when protests began, I do know that published protests began appearing in the 1990s.
I don’t think the renaming of Squaw Island is “revisionist” history. We revise our history all the time as more information is found, some information is found faulty, or new interpretations of events are formed. There never is, and never was, one absolute historical truth, enduring the ages and agreed upon by all. Revered teachers, for generations, told the story of the island as they understood it, in the light of the information they had, and sometimes they were off the mark. It does them no dishonor to do our own research and practice due diligence. As educators of their time, and the intellectual base of the community, that’s what they would want.
— Preston E. Pierce, MLS, EdD, Finger Lakes Community College
Ontario County Historian