Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows announced more than three weeks ago that they would reconvene discussions with the native Washoe council to consider renaming the ski area and removing the ethnic and sexist slur in its name. However, there is no definitive timetable as to when they will host the discussion again, according to Christine Horvath, Squaw Alpine Marketing Manager.
“We are holding internal and external conversations about whether we should change the name, and if so, what the new name might be,” Horvath told POWDER. “One major part of this outreach is the continuing conversation between Squaw Alpine President Ron Cohen and Darrel Cruz, Historic Preservation Officer for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. We are also in conversation with USFS, county representatives, and other regional stakeholders, so that we might all move forward in the most cohesive and collaborative way.”
Amid the national uproar resulting from the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, a curious thing happened. Renewed attention to disparities in racial justice impacted the corporate world with an unprecedented force. Organizations with problematic icons like Aunt Jemima and the Washington Redskins, who have announced they will rename, faced mounting pressures that couldn’t be ignored.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has faced pressure in the past to remove the word “squaw” from its branding. The word, which originally was a non-derogatory descriptor appropriated from Algonquain to mean a native woman or girl, grew connotations of sexism and racism as US policy and attitudes became more violent towards Native Americans. The meaning of the word now carries painful connotations and is widely understood to be a slur. Squaw Valley discussed renaming the resort a few years ago but decided to keep the name at the time.
Cruz told POWDER that “the tribe tried to engage the resort years ago, because [the resort’s name] was offensive to the tribe. Like a thorn in our side, it was constantly there and we wanted that name to go away. If I go to another country, Seminole land for example, and I see the name “Squaw” there, it has a different feeling than when it’s on our own land.”
Cruz was made aware of the resort’s new interest in changing its name on a local news TV channel. A spokesperson for the resort stated that they wanted to engage the local tribe. Cruz thought, “Well we’re the local tribe,” and within a week of reaching out, the resort’s president called Cruz to begin the discussion. “It says a lot about his character that he didn’t pass the conversation off to a public relations person,” Cruz said.
“On my side, we’re very enthusiastic about it. The president’s commitment to getting this changed is reassuring,” says Cruz.
Horvath stated that the resort is currently “inventorying all of all the places where the term ‘squaw’ currently exists and is figuring out a work plan to transition to a new name if or when a new name has been selected.” The land on which the resort lies was renamed to “Olympic Valley” when the resort hosted the 1960 Olympic Games.
If a name change does occur, it will take some time as the resort is home to dozens of establishments and businesses which use the term in their names and logos. Suffice to say, it will cost a great deal to change the branding across all of its properties.
“While to some this might seem a bit slow to progress,” says Horvath, “the name has been in place for over a century, and we want to make sure that any name change honors this legendary ski area.”
Cruz told POWDER that “[The Washoe Tribe] will try to work with any organization that is willing to work with us and listen to our voices. It’s taken a while for us to be heard. We own land in Olympic Valley, so this is not something that we take lightly. We have a vested interest in seeing the establishment of an appropriate name for the place. Our wish is for our people to be respected on our own native land.”