2020 has been a confusing swirl of racial inequality, social unrest, mishandled justice, pandemic madness and political turmoil. Tension is high in America right now. Which is why so many individuals, businesses, groups and even places are changing their names to distance themselves from anything racist or offensive.
Stapelton, Colorado has become Central Park, Colorado. The Washington Redskins are now the Washington Football Team. 16th Street Northwest in Washington DC, is now Black Lives Matter Plaza Northwest. And Eskimo ice lollies have become O’Payo’s.
The latest of these name changes, came from Squaw Valley Ski Resort in California. After having done “extensive research” into the etymology of the word, and after having consulted local native American tribesman, the iconic Californian ski resort has decided to drop the “Squaw” from its name.
“With the momentum of recognition and accountability we are seeing around the country, we have reached the conclusion that now is the right time to acknowledge a change needs to happen.” Wrote Ron Cohen, President and COO of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in a press release.
“While we love our local history and the memories we all associate with this place as it has been named for so long, we are confronted with the overwhelming evidence that the term ‘squaw’ is offensive.”
Squaw Valley opened its doors in 1949 (notably well-before America’s wokening) and didn’t achieve international fame until it hosted the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. Since then Squaw Valley has been a destination for skiers and boarders from all over the world. Overlooking Lake Tahoe, with 450 inches of annual snowfall and 6,200 acres of skiable terrain, it is a gem of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
However, the term “Squaw” has long been used as a racial (and apparently also sexual) slur for Native American women. Since the early 1800’s the term has been used to denote savagery, barbarism and sexual animalism for indigenous women. It was sometimes used to describe white men who took up with Native women and lived with them and their tribe, or generally, just to describe a man who does women’s work.
Squaw was even sometimes used to crassly describe female genitals, not so unlike the word “pussy.”
“We have been in the area for thousands of years. Olympic Valley is within the ancestral homeland of the Washoe people,” stated Darrel Cruz, of the Washoe Tribe Historic Preservation Office, in a press release. “The word itself is a constant reminder of the unjust treatment of the native people, of the Washoe people. It’s a constant reminder of those time periods when it was not good for us. It’s a term that was inflicted upon us by somebody else and we don’t agree with it.”
It’s a mean term, to put things simply. One that’s been used for over a hundred years to demean and objectify indigenous people — particularly women.
A quick google search will reveal all this within the first two or three results. But, the folks at Squaw Valley apparently dug much deeper into the history of the term “Squaw” before announcing the decision to change their name.
“After extensive historical research, consultation with Native Americans (including the Washoe tribe, who are landowners in our community), and outreach to our local and wider community, our leadership has made the firm decision that it is time for our resort to move away from having our identity represented by a term that is deeply rooted in an offensive, demeaning and often violent history.” Wrote Cohn.
So, when will the name change take place? And what will Squaw Valley change its name to?
As for the former, the resort says that the name change will take place at the end of the 2021 winter season.
As for the resort’s new name, no one knows what that will be yet. No doubt Squaw Valley execs are currently in the throes of an epic brainstorming session, trying to figure out a new, non-polarizing and un-offensive name. Something catchy, that still honors the heritage of the land, without abandoning the history of the resort itself.
No matter what they change the name to, though, the skiing at Squaw Valley is going to be as rad as ever. Because, what’s really in a name anyway? As a wise poet once wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
And the situation at Squaw will be no different: A resort by any other name, will still shred the same.