Squaw Valley resort, acknowledging ‘racist and sexist’ name, changes it

New name will be ‘Palisades Tahoe’

By Vimal Patel

New York Times

The historic Squaw Valley ski resort in Lake Tahoe has been renamed Palisades Tahoe because “squaw” is a “racist and sexist slur” whose use is “contrary to our company’s values,” resort officials announced Monday.

Following the protests for racial justice after George Floyd’s murder, the resort researched the term, held a community meeting and conducted surveys that elicited more than 3,000 responses.

All of that pointed to what Dee Byrne, president and chief operating officer of the resort, said was an easy call: Sooner or later, the name had to go.

“‘Squaw’ is a hurtful term, and we’re not hurtful people,” Byrne said Monday. “Palisades Tahoe totally aligns with our values and what we want to represent to the marketplace going forward.”

The new name, the company said, was inspired by the terrain’s granite faces and chutes, and honors the resort’s history as a home to “freeskiing pioneers, Winter Olympians and cultural icons across more than seven decades of ski history.”

In announcing the name change, the resort said that “times change, societal norms evolve and we learn things we didn’t previously know.”

The term “has been the subject of extensive research and discussion,” the company’s statement added. “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.”

The resort, in Olympic Valley, opened in 1949 and hosted the 1960 Olympics. It is the largest in the snow-rich Lake Tahoe region, with 6,000 skiable acres across two mountains, according to its website. It sees 400 inches of average annual snowfall.

“This is a big, big statement we’re making in our industry,” Byrne said, “and we hope that other businesses will follow suit.”

The name removal comes amid a broader cultural reckoning over the racist symbolism in town squares, state parks, universities and sports franchises. The effort gained momentum after a deadly white supremacist rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, over a Confederate monument of Robert E. Lee, and was further energized by the murder of Floyd.

Native American groups have long protested the use of Indigenous nicknames and mascots, but the movement gained new allies amid the nationwide protests against racial injustice.

On Monday, the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California commended the resort for the name change, calling it a “bold” decision.

“They were willing to do it,” said Serrell Smokey, the tribe’s chairman. “They were not forced. Of course the tribe pushed them for many years. But the fact that they were willing to do the right thing and get rid of this very hurtful word that was in the name of their resort was just really bold.”

Smokey said Native American communities across the country had been working for years to remove “squaw” from place names.

“It affects all native people across the country,” he said. “It was a term that was used to belittle others, mainly women, to dehumanize them so that it was OK for them in the eyes of the Americans to be abused, murdered, raped and turned into slaves.”

He added, “It’s also a term that somehow along the way just became accepted.”

Last year, under pressure from corporate sponsors, the Washington football team announced it would drop its “Redskins” name and Indian head logo, a forced turnaround by the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, who for years had said he would never change the name. In December, Cleveland’s baseball team announced it would abandon the name “Indians.”

Other outdoor spaces in California may also soon get a name change. California State Parks has proposed changing the name of Patrick’s Point State Park, in Humboldt County, to Sue-meg State Park, to reflect the original area name used by the Yurok people, according to the state Parks Department. The park was named after a homesteader, Patrick Beegan, who was accused of killing Native Americans, the department said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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