Following more than a decade of discussions to change the name of Tahoe’s Squaw Valley Resort, the famous ski park announced it would permanently remove the word “squaw” from its name, which is widely considered to be a derogatory term for a Native American woman. As the public wonders what the new name will be, an online petition is urging the resort to let the Washoe Tribe head the change.
“The local ski resort, “Squaw”, is stolen land from the Washoe tribe and the name is a derogatory term towards Indigenous women,” read the petition. “In the amount of time I have spent working with the Washoe women I have learned how offensive and violent this word is which is why I refer to it in quotes. The Washoe tribe is standing up to change the name of their Sacred land and they should be the ones to rename it. Help amplify their voice and give them the right to rename their own land.”
According to advocacy groups, the term “squaw” is equivalent to the “c-word” for Native American women. The term was used to describe indigenous women during America’s brutal campaign of slavery and slaughter of Native American tribes in the 1700’s and 1800’s. To some, the name represents a legacy of violence against Native Americans.
The petition circulating online, organized by Kayla Heidenreich, references the Washoe Tribe’s long history in the Lake Tahoe area.
“The tribe of Lake Tahoe are the Washoe people,” read the petition. “Today, the women are rising up and working to change the name of “Squaw Valley”. The term “Squaw” is a derogatory term towards Indigenous women. Before the land was taken form them by settler-colonists, the Washoe used this land for its plants and herbs to create foods and medicines. Since it was stolen from them, many Washoe women avoid their own Sacred land due to fear instilled by the name.”
The word “squaw” has been successfully erased from other areas of NorCal in the recent decade. In 2011, the California Office of Historic Preservation renamed “Squaw Rock” on Highway 1010 near the Sonoma-Mendocino county line to Frog Woman Rock. In 2018, Sierra Nevada peak “Squaw Ridge” was renamed Hungalelti Ridge in coordination with the nearby Washoe tribe.
“It can be jarring to face the stark ugliness that is embodied by the same word that names a place so magnificently beautiful, a place so many of us hold dear,” said Squaw Valley President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Cohen on the name-change decision. “By taking this action, we confront and acknowledge the hard truths, and we recognize that our love of this place and our cherished memories do not justify continuing to use such a divisive and hurtful word. Today we do our part to help retire this word to its place in history books.”
The ski resort is far from the only business to use the word in the the north Tahoe area near Truckee dubbed “Squaw Valley.” In fact, most businesses and organizations in the historic Olympic Village use the word, and the ski resort could set off a domino effect of name changes throughout Tahoe with its name-change announcement.
A new name for the popular ski resort near Lake Tahoe which held the 1960 Olympics has not yet been determined, but will most likely be implemented in 2021.