In a ceremony attended by Native American tribal leaders, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Friday that will remove the word “squaw” from nearly 100 geographic features and place names across California.
In at least one place with the offensive name — the unincorporated town of Squaw Valley near Kings Canyon National Park — some residents are upset about the new law. Discussions about what the name should be have already become heated.
The Dunlap Band of Mono Indians, whose ancestral homeland is the area, hailed the signing of the bill as a historic victory.
“AB 2022 has been signed into law! California will ban the use of the racist and sexist slurs sq—-,” they wrote on Facebook.
But Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig, who represents the area, said in an interview on Saturday, “I’m disturbed by what happened. The state just rushed ahead without giving people a chance to weigh up whether they want their community name changed.”
“The impetus for this law was that many Native Americans find the term demeaning,” he continued. “But it depends on the context. For some people it is a source of pride.”
In Fresno County, five places that also need new names include Squaw Lake and Squaw Leap—a bluff overlooking the San Joaquin Gorge where legend says 17 Native American women who had been chained together by soldiers jumped to their deaths will.
Nationwide, officials have three years to remove the coating from cities, meadows, bodies of water, peaks and valleys.
AB 2022 by Assemblyman James C. Ramos (D-Highland) was among several bills Newsom signed into law to support Native American communities and promote justice and accountability statewide.
The move followed federal action this month to complete the removal of the word “squaw” from 650 geographic features across the country. In November, Home Secretary Deb Haaland, who is a Native American, declared the term “squaw” derogatory and set up a task force to find substitute names for places on public land.
“The term has historically been used as an ethnic, racial and sexist offensive slur,” the Home Office said in a press release, “particularly to indigenous women.”
The new law couldn’t come soon enough for Native American activists, whose ancestors lived in the hill country on the west flanks of the Sierra Nevada for millennia.
These include Roman Rain Tree, a member of the Dunlap Band of Mono Indians and leader of the Rename S-Valley Fresno County coalition, who ran virtual town halls and collected more than 35,000 signatures for a new name for Squaw Valley.
“I feel great,” Rain Tree said in an interview on Saturday. “Now we can put up a new welcome sign in this area, one with a name that will no longer offend Aboriginal people everywhere by derogatory language to our mothers and sisters.”
The town of 3,600 is a 300-mile drive from the historic ski area near Lake Tahoe, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics and once known as Squaw Valley. The ski resort name was changed to Palisades Tahoe a year ago.
This month Magsig, 45, who moved to Squaw Valley from Orange County as a teenager, said he had “sent out 1,400 mailers to local households asking if they would like a name change.”
“The local community has been excluded from the process,” he said. “I plan to present the results to the board on October 11th. After that we will decide how to proceed.”
At a community meeting called by Magsig last week, many residents opposed the name change, the Fresno Bee reported.
Now that Newsom AB has signed 2022, residents of communities like Squaw Valley must decide what to call them instead.
The western United States, including California, is littered with old place names, many gold rush holdovers, now believed to be tainted with racial beliefs.
The name of a mountain peak in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park honoring President Jefferson Davis was reverted to his Shoshone name, Doso Doyabi, in 2019 to demonstrate a commitment to the values that define our society today.
Some scholars suggest that “squaw” comes from the Algonquin language, spoken by many tribes on the East Coast, which originally meant “woman.”
Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute and a leading advocate for Native American rights since the 1960s, said “squaw” was popularized by French and British trappers who conscripted Indigenous women as forced laborers as early as the 17th century.
The earliest documented appearance of the name “Squaw Valley” in Fresno County dates to August 8, 1871, when the Squaw Valley School District was formed, according to a report compiled by Fresno Library staff.
The report cites a report that the name was inspired by an imprint in the shape of a woman’s moccasin in a granite rock pointing towards the valley.
A coalition of Native American activists backed by the American Civil Liberties Union recently proposed several replacement names for “Squaw Valley,” including “Nuum Valley.”
Nuum means “the people” in Western Mono.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-25/new-law-will-remove-the-word-squaw-from-california-place-names New law will remove the word ‘squaw’ from California place names