California ski resort eyes name change

Washoe Tribe Chairman Serrell Smokey at the annual National Congress of American Indians Mid-Year Conference in Nevada in June 2019. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian Country Today, File)

The Associated Press

'That word is an epithet and a slur. It's been a slur for a very long time'

Associated Press

TAHOE CITY, Calif. - California's popular Squaw Valley Ski Resort is considering changing its name to remove the s-word — a derogatory term for Native American women — amid a national reckoning over racial injustice and inequality.

Regional California tribes have asked for the name of the ski resort — which received international name recognition when it hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics — to be changed numerous times over the years, with little success.

But the idea is gaining momentum.

Washoe Tribe Chairman Serrell Smokey said the derogatory name is a constant reminder of efforts to disparage Native people.

He's in favor of the name change and suggested "Olympic Valley" as a replacement.

Ski resort President & CEO Ron Cohen said the resort is currently taking inventory of all the places where the name appears on and off the property, how much it would cost to change and what to prioritize if the change moves ahead.

Removing the derogatory word from the resort name would be a lengthy and expensive process, Cohen said, as the name appears on hundreds of signs and is imprinted on everything from uniforms to vehicles.

Cohen, who took over as head of the resort two years ago, said the operators are also meeting with shareholders, including business and homeowners within the resort, as well as the local Washoe tribal leadership to get their input.

Cohen said he could not give a timeline on when a decision could be made.

The change of a name isn’t new in Indian Country.

On Monday, the National Football League's Washington team announced the team is dropping the racial slur and logo.

In Arizona, just north of Phoenix, a mountain was renamed to Piestewa Peak in 2003. The peak honors Lori Piestewa, Hopi, who was the first woman killed in combat in Iraq. The peak previously had the derogatory name.

(Video: ‘Dramatic improvements’ to Piestewa Peak trail)

The word 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, said Vanessa Esquivido, a professor of American Indian Studies at California State University, Chico.

"That word is an epithet and a slur. It's been a slur for a very long time," she said.

When settlers arrived in the 1850s in the area where the Sierra Nevada mountain resort is now located, they first saw only Native American women working in a meadow. The land near Lake Tahoe was believed to have been given the name S-word Valley by those early settlers.

But now the term is considered derogatory and even the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word as an offensive term for a Native American woman.

The possible renaming of the ski resort is one of many efforts across the nation to address colonialism and Indigenous oppression, including the removal of statues of Christopher Columbus, a symbol to many of European colonization and the death of Native people.

Related:

⁠— Washington NFL team kicks R-word to the curb
Reactions to the Washington team name retirement
Mascots honor an Indian who never was
‘Today, we celebrate; tomorrow our fight continues’
Never say NEVER about social change

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Indian Country Today contributed to this report.

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