Situating the S-Slur Within the Colonial Imaginary: The Shaping and Shaming of Indigenous Un/Womanhood in Western Canada during the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

  • Sinéad O'Halloran Carleton University


This paper charts the shifting connotations, uses and impacts of the s-slur, a derogatory term used by colonizers to refer to Indigenous women, in archival Western Canadian newspapers. It aims to demonstrate the influences of hetero-patriarchy, racism, and capitalism on the perception of Indigenous ‘un/womanhood’ during the expansion of the settler state. It draws upon feminist and linguistic frameworks to examine the coloniality of gender, naming, and slurs. By examining how the use of the s-slur fluctuated between insinuations of victimhood (in relation to Indigenous gender roles, traditions, and marriage) and threat (in association with sexual deviancy and sex work), this paper aims to demonstrate how the term represented both sides of the racialized gender dichotomy, depending on how it could best serve the colonial project. This research is an attempt to understand the legacies of violence inflicted by, and encapsulated in, the use of this word towards Indigenous women, and to argue for the necessity of de-normalizing its use.