Scott Gaffney, filmmaker, Matchstick Director, skier, mediocre diehard surfer, and literally the G in GNAR, spoke out in support of Squaw Valley’s decision to remove ‘Squaw’ from their name in 2021. Squaw Valley ski resort in Lake Tahoe, CA yesterday committed to changing their name from the word “Squaw” since the word “Squaw” is considered a racial & sexist slur against Native Americans.
In an Instagram post yesterday, Gaffney said:
_____ Valley… The name may change, but the spirit will remain the same.
We could argue about the dual meanings of “Squaw” or “skwa” and all of the intricacies surrounding them, but I don’t feel social media is really the ideal place to get into a discussion of this magnitude—particularly with limited word counts—so I’ll just say it bluntly: I feel changing the name of Squaw Valley is the right thing to do.
How we transition and erase the name from our everyday language will be an interesting journey.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of sitting around a picnic table as Wayne Poulsen, Jr. shared the powerful story of coming into the valley as a child and seeing native Washoe women weaving baskets alongside the winding creek. That image has long stuck with me. Astute arrowhead hunters can still discover arrowheads up in Shirley Canyon.
We—as predominantly caucasian recreationalists—may have settled and taken over this valley, but we are occupying a mere blip in the timeline of this treasured place. I’d like to think Squaw was originally named to honor those already here. In that same vein, I encourage the powers-that-be to not settle on an obviously name like “Olympic Valley”, but to pay tribute to those who were here before us with an honorable native name.
I’m not trying to sound all woke; I’ve just always felt there’s real power in the image of those native women alongside the creek such a short time ago, and I understand that this place isn’t ours; we’re just here right now.
As far as the personal impact in losing the name “Squaw”—a place that lured me so many years ago and to which I’ve devoted so much of my life…my attachment is to this magical mountain and valley, not what we call it.
The new name for Squaw Valley hasn’t been announced yet but is widely anticipated to be “Olympic Valley” since that is the name of the town that Squaw Valley ski resort resides within.
According to Squaw Valley, the new name will be announced in early 2021 and will be implemented after the end of the 2020/21 ski season.
Squaw Valley ski resort will retain the name Squaw Valley until the new name is announced – there will be no interim name.
Squaw Valley has announced that “a renaming project team headed by resort leadership will oversee the selection of the new name.”
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows Press Release:
[OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif.] Aug. 25, 2020 – Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows announces today it is making a commitment to change the name of the legendary California mountain destination.
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 is slated to begin immediately and will culminate with an announcement of a new name in 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 considered offensive,” said Ron Cohen, president and COO of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. “As much as we cherish the memories we associate with our resort name, we must accept that these emotional attachments do not justify our continuing use of a word 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 chairlift, 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.”
A renaming project team headed by resort leadership will oversee the selection of the new name.
For more information on this decision, as well as the history surrounding the word “squaw,” please visit: https://squawalpine.com/squaw-valley-alpine-meadows-name-change.
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.