Is ‘Squaw Bread’ an Affront to Native Americans or Are You All Too PC?

Move over Adam Sandler, because there’s a new dog in town as far publicly disparaging Native Americans is concerned. And no, this new offender unfortunately doesn’t share your penchant for speaking in baby voices or singing about Jewish holidays.

|
Jul 17 2015, 8:30pm

Photo via Flickr user Alexa Clark

Move over Adam Sandler, because there's a new dog in town as far publicly disparaging Native Americans is concerned. And no, this new offender unfortunately doesn't share your penchant for speaking in baby voices or singing about Jewish holidays. Nor are we talking about a football team or a certain nameless cartoonist and amusement park mogul.

Instead, we're talking about a lowly piece of bread.

For several years now, Southern Californian restaurateurs Keith and Kitty Holloway have noticed a slow but steady stream of complaints pertaining to the name of the bread on their menu. The Backstreet Restaurant in Riverside, California has been in the Holloway family for over 48 years, but that hasn't stopped customers from taking issue with a longstanding item on their menu: "squaw bread."

Here's where this story starts to get a bit tricky. Squaw bread is a real thing, not something dreamed up by the Holloways. It is supposedly a rye and molasses bread first developed in the 1800s by German pioneers who looked to Native Americans for the bread's inspiration. These bread-making European immigrants apparently brought rye seeds with them on their journey to the New World, but they lacked several ingredients for their bread of choice. Thus they turned to their newfound neighbors, the Native Americans, for substitute ingredients.

So squaw bread has been around for a long time, and its etymology may have started out innocently enough—as a respectful reference to American-Indian women who helped complete the recipe. However, in a 1997 letter published in News from Indian Country, linguist Ives Goddard acknowledges that although the term's history may be respectful, he recognizes the derogatory connotation it may carry today.

Back in Riverdale, Keith Holloway became fed up with the steady spate of complaints and decided that enough was enough. "I've been convinced that it's an offensive word," said Holloway about the term "squaw bread." He decided the rename the stuff.

One of the restaurant's cooks, Rubén López, agrees with Holloway's decision to swap names: "I think it's time to have a new name so nobody gets offended."

So the Holloways took the next logical step, and staying true to their Californian roots, threw a public competition. They asked regulars for suggestions for a new name for the bread. Incidentally, Adam Levine didn't show up to the competition, but I it heard from a very reputable source that several people sighted a cowboy hat believed to have been worn by Blake Shelton.

Regardless, it turns out that publicly drawing attention to your restaurant's badly named fare—racist or otherwise— especially vis-à-vis a self-sponsored contest, probably isn't the greatest of ideas. A veritable buttload of "vicious" hate messages began to pour in near-immediately after the restaurant's contest began.

But it wasn't those offended with the bread's racist nomenclature who were up in arms. The trolls were champions of squaw bread, accusing the restaurant of being too politically correct.

Oh well, you just can't win in the delicate world of brand names—like Pontiac, Cherokee, and Umpqua Ice Cream—based on Native American names. Are they respectful or racist? Derogatory or deferential?

I'll just say this: please pass the butter.

Or do I mean Land O' Lakes? Nevermind.

Stories