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With urging from Seneca leaders, Buffalo on the verge of renaming Squaw Island

At some point, “Ga’nigo:i:yoh” may become as much a part of Buffalo parlance as Cheektowaga and Scajaquada.

Ga’nigo:i:yoh (pronounced ga’-nego-e-yah) is the new Seneca name being proposed for the Niagara River parkland now called Squaw Island.

The city’s plan right now is to rename the 60-acre park – located off the Black Rock, just north of Broderick Park – Unity Island (Ga’nigo:i:yoh). Unity Island gets primary naming status, with the Seneca name in parentheses, and included in all signage, under the proposal.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. said he’s heard that some would like to see the Seneca name get more emphasis as the island’s primary name. If that’s the case, he said, it will be considered by the Common Council during a public hearing at 2 p.m. June 23 in Council Chambers. “I’m open to compromise,” he said.

This is the second name that has been proposed for the island since two Native American women – Jodi Lynn Maracle, a Mohawk; and Agnes Williams, a Seneca – last year requested the renaming. The word “squaw,” they said, is objectionable to many Native Americans and others who view it as racist and derogatory. The word, in fact, has been replaced on many public sites around the United States in recent years.

At the request of the women, and with support of Seneca leaders, city lawmakers proposed renaming the property Divided Island – Deyowenoguhdoh (pronounced de-dyo-we-no-guh-do). That Seneca word, they said, was the name of the island for hundreds of years, a reference to the stream that runs through it, dividing the island, according to Seneca leaders.

But Mayor Byron W. Brown, while supportive of a name change, didn’t like the name Divided Island. After meeting with Maurice A. John Jr., the president of the Seneca Nation of Indians, Brown announced in February that the two had agreed to rename the island using the Seneca name for unity. Senecas attending some previous Council meetings on the issue recently provided the Seneca translation and pronunciation for The Buffalo News. The Seneca word translates to “one mind, unity.”

The hearing could be one of the final steps before the Council votes on renaming the island. A vote might be possible as soon as July 7.

Buffalo officials had talked about renaming Squaw Island more than a decade ago, when a city employee complained that the word “squaw” is an offensive and sexist reference to women.

But the issue didn’t gain traction until last November, when Maracle and Williams came before the Council asking for a name change.

The 60-acre island had been used for years as a city garbage dump, but eventually was capped and turned into a park with picnic tables and bicycle paths.

email: sschulman@buffnews.com