March 4th, 2021 Last Updated on: March 10th, 2021
Think of the word that you find the most offensive of any word in the dictionary. Now, imagine living in a town by that name. It's part of your address, it's plastered across street signs and local shops, it's all around you. And there's nothing you can do about it.
Some residents of one town in Fresno County, California, town, don't have to imagine that. Because they live in a place called Squaw Valley—yes, really.
Squaw Valley is a 4,000-person town nestled along the eastern foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Its population is roughly 70 percent Caucasian, and only about 1.4 percent Native American. If you're doing the math, that's only about 60 Native Americans in the whole town, which may lend some guidance as to why the offensive name still stands.
What’s in a name?
“Squaw” is an ethnic and sexual slur that dates back hundreds of years. The term refers to a Native American woman’s genitalia, thus sexualizing and objectifying Native women in humiliating fashion. It also serves as a painful reminder of how European settlers once used Native female bodies in whichever way they pleased.
For what it's worth, this isn't the first time the word has been the center of a controversy.
An article in the Buffalo News in 2015, Chief Ava Hill of the Six Nations of the Grand River wrote:
“The continued use and acceptance of the word ‘Squaw' only perpetuates the idea that indigenous women and culture can be deemed as impure, sexually perverse, barbaric and dirty … Please do eliminate the slur ‘Squaw' from your community.”
What is happening with Squaw Valley in California?
On January 27, 2021, at the Orange Cove City Council meeting, a proposal surfaced to change Squaw Valley to Nim Valley. According to the authors of the proposal, “Nim” represents the homeland’s very first inhabitants, the Western Mono Indigenous people.
This legislation was passed.
But it didn’t end in the resolution part of the community was hoping for—at least not yet.
The name change has been put on hold after complaints from within the community.
What some community members are saying…
Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig responded on his Facebook page immediately after the decision was passed in the council meeting:
“The term Squaw is offensive to some Native American groups,” Magsig said. “I am not interested in having any cities trying to tell communities outside of their city limits what the names should be of those communities.”
Magsig says as far as he’s concerned, the name Squaw Valley will remain until the community itself decides it should be changed, according to the GVWire.
Another opponent of the Squaw Valley name change is Orange Cove’s very own mayor, Victor Lopez.
“Citizens bring in whatever they want to bring in and they put it on the agenda to be discussed,” Lopez said. “I will not vote in favor of it. I can tell you right now, I guarantee you I will not support that.”
Petition to change Squaw Valley's name
A citizen Roman Raintree began a petition on Change.org called Rename Squaw Valley Fresno County. The petition has already secured more than 2,100 signatures. Raintree is seeking 2,500 total.
Will that be enough to sway political leaders to change Squaw Valley's name once and for all?
Home » Native American Articles » Native American Issues »