Squaw Valley Name Change

After extensive research into the etymology and history of the term “squaw,” both generally and specifically with respect to Squaw Valley, outreach to Native American groups, including the local Washoe Tribe, and outreach to the local and extended community, company leadership has decided it is time to drop the derogatory and offensive term “squaw” from the destination’s name.

Work to determine a new name will begin immediately and will culminate with an announcement of a new name in early 2021. Implementation of the name change will occur after the winter season concludes in 2021.

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. 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.  We have to accept that as much as we cherish the memories we associate with our resort name, that love does not justify continuing to use a term that is widely accepted to be a racist and sexist slur. We will find a new name that reflects our core values, storied past, and respect for all those who have enjoyed this land. While the resort name will change, this special place will always be the location of the 1960 Winter Olympics, the home of our beloved KT-22 chair lift, the place where extreme skiing pioneers changed the sport forever, and the beloved mountain home for so many people who revere this amazing ski resort."

- Ron Cohen, President and COO of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows

Please see below for the FAQ's and some of the research gathered on the etymology and history of the term "squaw" as well as how the term is viewed today. 

For the official press release and for media inquires please contact: 

Alex Spychalsky, Public Relations Specialist
Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows
530-584-6035 or alex@squawalpine.com

Kristin Rust, VP Communications
Alterra Mountain Company
303-801-7271 or krust@alterramtnco.com 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are you changing the name?

After extensive research into the etymology and history of the term “squaw,” it is undeniable that the word is now widely considered a racist and sexist slur. This is contrary to our company’s core values.

Why is the word “squaw” considered offensive?

We recognize that when the resort was named in 1949, there was no intent whatsoever to be derogatory or offensive—it was just a reference to the name of the valley. Similarly, when our guests and community members say the name today, they are not doing so with an intention to be racist or sexist. However, the reality is the times change, societal norms evolve and we learn things we didn’t previously know. Over the years, more and more has been learned about the word “squaw.” It has been the subject of extensive research and discussion. There is now insurmountable evidence, dating back to the early 1800s, that the word “squaw” has long been used as a derogatory and dehumanizing reference to a Native American woman. 

Over recent years, the growing recognition of the full history of the word has resulted in all major dictionaries recognizing it as derogatory and/or offensive. This recognition has in turn kicked off calls for changes of placenames containing “squaw” across North America. In the last 25 years there have been dozens of successful efforts to remove the name “squaw” from locations. In 1995, Minnesota made it illegal to have a “squaw” placename; six more states have followed suit. The U.S. Forest Service in our region has declared the word offensive with respect to Forest Service placenames. Locally, the Washoe Tribe has actively sought name changes, and has previously asked local government for the removal of “squaw” from locations within its ancestral homeland, which includes our resort.

When will the name be changed?

A team will begin work on choosing a new name immediately. We will announce the new name in early 2021, and it will begin to be implemented after the conclusion of the 2020-21 ski season.

What will the new name be? How is that decision being made?

A renaming project team, headed by resort leadership, will oversee the selection of a new name. The team will seek to find a new name that reflects our core values, storied past, and respect for all those who have enjoyed this land.

Will the resort continue to be called “Squaw Valley” until the name is changed, or will there be an interim name?

There will not be an interim name. A great deal of thought and logistical work will go into the name change and it would be counterproductive to do something on a temporary basis given the amount of work that will go into this change.

What about the many local businesses that use “Squaw” in their name? Will they be required to change theirs?

We are not seeking to impose our decision on the many independent businesses and associations that currently use the word in their name. However, we are hopeful that our leadership on the issue convinces others to change too. 

Why does the resort think now is the right time to change the name?

The use of the term “squaw” in our resort name has been a topic of discussion for many years, but with the momentum of recognition and accountability we are seeing around the country, it is clear that the time has come for us to fully acknowledge and confront the reality of this word. We are fortunate to have the support and resources of our parent company, Alterra Mountain Company, to undergo the extensive and expensive process of a large-scale renaming of the entire resort. “Squaw Valley” is emblazoned all over our resort, from our uniforms and name tags, to signage, vehicles and even pint glasses. Changing our name is in no way the “easy way out,” but it is undoubtedly the right thing to do.

Won’t changing the name erase the history and legacy of the resort?

We have to accept that as much as we cherish the memories we associate with our resort name, that love does not justify continuing to use a term that is widely accepted to be a racist and sexist slur. While the resort name will change, this special place will always be the location of the 1960 Winter Olympics, the home of our beloved KT-22 chair lift, the place where extreme skiing pioneers changed the sport forever and the treasured mountain home for so many people who revere this amazing ski resort.

History & Origin of "Squaw"

 


Etymology of the Word Squaw 

Early examples of the use of the word squaw, and the Princess vs. Squaw Stereotype, give insight into the common and longstanding derogatory use of the word.

Early Examples

…the crafty ‘squaw’ … the squalid and withered person of this hag.”
- James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans, 1826

...the universal ‘squaw’ – squat, angular, pig-eyed, ragged, wretched, and insect-haunted.”
- Lt. James W. Steele (Memoirs, 1883)

By way of expressing their utter contempt for him they called him a ‘squaw’.’’
- Welcker, in Tales West, 1890

The Common Stereotypes of the Princess and the Squaw

A squaw is a “failed” princess, “who is lower than a bad White woman”
- Bird, 1999, p. 73

The squaw is the “darker twin” of Pocahontas and the “anti-Pocahontas.”
- Valaskakis, 2005, p. 134

Where the princess was beautiful, the squaw was ugly, even deformed. Where the princess was virtuous, the squaw was debased, immoral, a sexual convenience. Where the princess was proud, the squaw lived a squalid life of servile toil, mistreated by her men—and openly available to non-Native men.”
- Francis (1995, pp. 121–122)


The Naming of Squaw Valley

Several origin stories exist for the naming of Squaw Valley. The primary reference for the origin story is Edward Scott’s 1960 book “Squaw Valley.” The most commonly referenced origin story is some combination of the first and fourth below, directly referenced from the Scott book.

1
The legend of the faithful 'squaw' waiting patiently in the valley for her warrior brave to return, not knowing he had been killed in battle with the Paiutes.
2
One ‘Indian Charlie’ who murdered his common-law wife in the valley during a game of ‘squaw poker.’ Unanimously acquitted of a jury of his fellow Washoe tribesman, after it was decided the white man’s red-eye had blinded him to what he is doing, he is said to have become known as ‘Squaw Valley Charlie’ and left his nickname on the valley.
3
Another source of the name is said to be the ‘Indian Squaw’s profile’ on Squaw Peak.
4
A logical source of the name is based on fact. When the first emigrants moved through the valley in 1849-50 they were surprised to find only 'squaws' and children at the summer encampment. The bucks were away on a trek to Long Valley, sixteen miles to the southeast over the granite ridge from Lower Hell Hole and the Rubicon River. There they hunted the ‘picket pin’ gopher and caught grasshoppers to augment the tribe’s food supply. Since the emigrants found a majority of 'squaws' in the base camp they named it Squaw Valley.

While some believe that the most common origin story honors the legend of Native American women waiting in the valley, the idea of “honor” is contradicted by history and context. California became a state in 1850, around the same time that Squaw Valley was given its name. Upon becoming a state, California immediately enacted laws to protect and reward the kidnapping, enslavement, and sale of Native Americans. By this time, the term squaw had already taken on a primarily dehumanizing and derogatory context. 

No matter the true origin or intent of the name, we do not believe you can honor someone with a name that they clearly consider to be offensive. 


Efforts across North America to change "Squaw" Place Names

Across North America, numerous sites and landmarks have eliminated ‘squaw’ and renamed their locations. Seven states have codified that it is offensive and needs to be replaced. Many more places are in the process of doing the same.

1995

Minnesota

Minnesota, 1995: State law enacted to change the names of 19 geographic features with 'squaw' names “to other non-derogatory names.”

1999-2009

Montana

A decade-long project to remove the derogatory word ‘squaw’ from the names of 76 streams, buttes and mountains across Montana has been completed.

2000

Maine

State law enacted to change all names including the word ‘squaw.’

2000

Oklahoma

The word 'squaw' is removed from all geographic names used in Oklahoma.

2002

Idaho

State law enacted to eventually rename all geographical place names in the state to eliminate the use of the word 'squaw.'

2003

South Dakota

Offensive place names in South Dakota by county are replaced including Squaw Lake, Squaw Flat, Squaw Creek, and Squaw Hill.

2003 

Oregon

Prohibition on the use of term 'squaw' except as required by federal law, a public body may not use the term 'squaw' in the name of public property.

For more in-depth research on the historical context and usage of the word, please read our Findings on the Name Squaw presentation.

How is 'Squaw' Viewed Today?

'Squaw' is listed and accepted as offensive, derogatory, racist, and misogynistic by the vast majority of modern sources and references. Stated differently, our name is generally accepted to include an offensive and derogatory slur.

Dictionaries uniformly refer to squaw as offensive.
  • Oxford Language Dictionary: “Offensive”
  • Dictionary.com: “Disparaging and Offensive”
  • Merriam Webster: “Now, usually offensive” and “Dated, usually disparaging.”
  • American Heritage Dictionary: “Offensive”
  • Cambridge Dictionary: “now considered offensive by many people.”
  • Collins Dictionary: “Offensive”
  • Macmillan Thesaurus: “Offensive,” synonyms include “coon, colored, coolie, dago, and gypsy.”
The media generally starts from the accepted premise that squaw is a derogatory term.
  • Associated Press: “derogatory term”
  • Reno Gazette Journal: “derogatory term”
  • San Jose Mercury News: “derogatory term”
  • LA Times: “derogatory term”
  • Powder Magazine: “racial slur”
  • Snowbrains: “racial slur”
  • Sierra Sun: “deemed offensive”
  • Fox affiliates: “derogatory term”
  • Teton Gravity: “racial slur”
  • USA Today: “considered offensive”
  • London Telegraph: “racist slur”

 


WHAT DOES THE WASHOE TRIBE SAY?

The Washoe Tribe is constituted of approximately 2,000 people. They are governed by a Tribal Council, consisting of 12 representatives. The Council is responsible for the cultural preservation of the Washoe history and culture, and the Chair is responsible for the daily operations of the tribe. The Tribe are landowners in Olympic Valley, where they own a large parcel adjacent to the Park.

We have been in the area for thousands of years. Olympic Valley is within the ancestral homeland of the Washoe people.

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.”

- Darrel Cruz, Washoe Tribe Historic Preservation Office

That was a way to break us down and to devalue us and view us not as humans so we would be easier to push out.”

- Serrell Smokey, Washoe Tribe Chair

 


WHAT DO OTHER NATIVE AMERICANS SAY?

Tribes and members of Tribes across North America have pushed to change squaw place names.  


The term is ‘one of four terms most offensive to Native Americans.'"

- Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a retired Native American United States Senator born in Auburn, California

Yes, I’m an Indigenous woman being honored in a hotel that is named after a slur used to describe Native American women as sex objects. It was painful to bring my Native sisters here to celebrate with me. This is one of the openly racist, anti-Native American terms that people still justify the use of.”

- Gabriella Cazares-Kelly, Tohono O’odham

It’s time to change the s-word on the street to match the name of Piestewa Peak. The s-word continues to be one that is highly derogatory and of the sexual nature to American Indian women, and one that continues to be used as a negative tool, as a weapon, to make us feel less than human.”

- Patti Hibbeler, Salish/Kootenai

For me, the term is racist and derogatory. It is meant to belittle somebody or belittle their worth. Historically it has been used to [mean] prostitution as well as sexual violence against women.”

- Chauma Jansen, Navajo/Sioux/Assiniboine

Over the past month I have struggled to find an answer considering the protests against change. This river, valley and communities are the reason we choose to live here. With these shared commonalities, my unanswered question to the protest argument is this: Why do you fight so hard, to offend the Native Methow People?”

- Mark Miller, Methow

Letter from Ron Cohen

August 25, 2020

Today is a difficult but exciting day in the long and storied history of Squaw Valley. I am pleased to announce our commitment to removing “squaw” from our resort name. The concerns about our name have been long discussed, but as we all find ourselves in a time of increased awareness and righteous demands for accountability, our leadership team has concluded we must move from discussion to action.

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. The simple fact is that the word “squaw” is now widely accepted as a racial and sexist slur towards indigenous women, and we can no longer ignore the pain caused by perpetuating the use of this term, regardless of intent.

We want to be clear that we know the founders of our resort had no intentions of causing offense in choosing this name for the resort, nor have any of our patrons who have spoken this word over the last seven decades, since our grand opening on Thanksgiving Day in 1949. But as our society evolves, we must acknowledge the need for change when we are confronted with harsh realities. Having our name be associated with pain and dehumanization is contrary to our goal of making the outdoors a welcoming space for all people. I feel strongly that we have been given the rare opportunity to effect lasting, positive change; to find a new name that reflects our core values, storied past and respect for all those who have enjoyed this land.

What will this mean for you when you visit our resort? It will take some time for us to find the right name, and we are committed to doing this right, so you will not see immediate change. Behind the scenes, a team will begin work immediately on choosing a new name, which we will aim to announce in early 2021. We can’t feasibly implement mid-winter, so we will target summer 2021 for implementation. However, while the name of the resort will ultimately change, the things you love about Squaw Valley—that made you seek out our resort, join our mountain community and build cherished memories here—those will remain the same. This special place will always be the location of the 1960 Winter Olympics, the home of our beloved KT-22 chairlift and the legendary big mountain terrain where extreme skiing pioneers changed the sport forever, and the treasured mountain home for so many people who revere this amazing ski resort. 

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. 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. I am honored to lead the team responsible for putting us on this path, and as the resort president I am accountable for this decision. You are welcome to reach out to me to express your opinion, whether in favor or against, but please recognize that our decision is made and we are not looking back. Please join us as we move forward, together.

- Ron Cohen, President and COO of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows