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Lake Tahoe’s Washoe Tribe Explains the History of the Slur “Squaw”

Squaw Valley stunned everyone last August by dropping the sexist slur “squaw” from their current name. While many applauded the decision, some were resistant to the idea. Change is hard, but sometimes it’s the thing we need if it means making a space more welcoming, inclusive, and accessible for everyone in the outdoors. For indigenous communities—especially the local Washoe tribe—the word squaw always been viewed as a derogatory term, often used to degrade women. Recently the women of the Washoe Tribe released a statement explaining the troublesome history of this word, and why it means so much that the ski resort is willing to find a new name.

This word is a dictionary-defined slur. Dictionary.com photo.

From the words of the women of Washoe Tribe:

"I understand that you may personally feel that way, but I think your judgment might be a little bit biased based on your own personal history with that word, and not based on the true history of how that word was and is used to demean and disrespect Indigenous women throughout history. It is a dictionary-defined derogatory, racist, and sexist slur (outlawed in place names in multiple states in U.S.). To Wáˑšiw women, it has been used throughout generations to disrespect and demean us, our grandmothers, and great grandmothers. The way it has been used in our experiences, it’s equivalent to the use of the “b-word” (female dog) used to demean women. I think you may feel differently if it was the “b-word” that was used to “honor women” in-lieu of the “s-word” in the name of the valley.⁠⠀

We are grateful to still be here. We are truly grateful to and celebrate all those who are willing to take this slur out of their vocabulary, so we can have a more respectful and inclusive community for all of our families.⁠⠀

If you would like more information on the history of this term and its use, the ski resort in Olympic Valley posted the results of their research of this derogatory racial and sexist slur on their website."⁠⠀

To learn more about the resort's decision and the history of the word, head to the resort's website.

Thank you for writing this! Having grown up in this area and moved away I did not know this.  My family has had property in Tahoe City since the late 1800’s and this area is very special to me. Although change is hard, I am proud that this area is taking a leading stance in a very important and progressive way!

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