A popular California ski resort whose name included a derogatory term for Native American women changed its name to Palisades Tahoe Monday. Resort officials had begun searching for a new name last year amid a reckoning over racial injustice.
The renaming of Squaw Valley Ski Resort is one of many efforts nationally to address a history of colonialism and oppression against Native Americans and other people of color that includes removing statues of Christopher Columbus.
The word “squaw,” derived from the Algonquin language, may have once simply meant “woman,” but over generations, the word morphed into a misogynist and racist term to disparage Indigenous women, according to experts.
“It was the right thing to do and I think it’s going to make a difference. I think we’re going to be seen as a more welcoming, inclusive resort and community,” said Palisades Tahoe President and COO Dee Byrne.
Byrne said that after studying the issue for the past year the resort’s research concluded the word is very offensive “not just to Indigenous women but to all women.”
The resort is in Olympic Valley, which was known as Squaw Valley until it hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics. Tribes in the region had been asking the resort for a name change for decades.
The valley, in the Lake Tahoe area about 200 miles northeast of San Francisco, is within the ancestral homeland of the Washoe people, Darrel Cruz of the Washoe Tribe Historic Preservation Office said in a statement. He said the word is 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.”
Washoe Tribal Chairman Serrell Smokey said the tribal council expressed “its great appreciation for this positive step forward.”
“There’s been a lot of progress but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he added. “We need to continue to capitalize on that progress and continue to push forward.”
Smokey said the tribe plans to work with the resort as well as Placer County officials to rename other public places and features in the Olympic Valley that continue to use the derogatory word.
Company officials said the resort’s new logo honors the two legendary mountains that are part of it. And in a nod to the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, it features an eagle, a symbol of the spiritual world for Native Americans.
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Beyond changing its name, the company said it is partnering with the Washoe Tribe to educate resort guests about tribal culture. This summer, the resort launched the Washoe Cultural Tour series, offering a monthly talk by Cruz. The resort will also install an exhibit on the Washoe way of life.
Associated Press writer Sam Metz contributed to this report from Carson City, Nevada. Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.