TAHOE CITY, Calif. (AP) – Women of the Washoe tribe have long battled against the word “squaw,” a racist insult that, for more than half a century, was part of the name of a famous ski resort of the Sierra.
The resort town north of Tahoe City, California was called Squaw Valley long before it rose to fame for hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics, the first to be televised nationally.
Founded in 1949, it announced in August 2020 that it was launching a search for a new name with input from the local tribe during a year-long planning process. The resort officially moved to Palisades Tahoe in September.
âOur leaders are really happy that we are changing this name,â said Washoe Tribe member Dinah Pete.
Emily Tessmer, journalist and alumnus of the University of Sierra Nevada in Lake Tahoe, produced a documentary with the women of the tribe, who talk about this milestone and what the land means to them.
âI thought this could be such a cool story – to get some feedback on the name change, what it means for (the tribe) and give them a platform to stand up and speak their truth,â said Tessmer at the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
She contacted a few tribal members she knew to create the eight-minute documentary, “Walking With My Sisters”.
âI know a lot of people say, ‘Oh the word doesn’t mean anything negative,’ but it does,â Tessmer said. “We have to imagine what it must have been like to be in their shoes.”
Pete said part of the credit for the name change should go to the late Linda Shoshone, who was the cultural director of the Washoe Tribe more than 20 years ago.
âShe was the only one fighting that name because it was so insulting to our women (Washhoe) and what the settlers were doing to them,â Pete said.
Palisades Tahoe isn’t the first place to dismiss the term, which has been used as an insult, particularly to native women. Since 2003, seven states have worked to remove the name from geographic features and landmarks, and Oregon bans its use.
Last month, US Home Secretary Deb Haaland officially declared the term derogatory and said she was taking steps to remove it from use by the federal government and to replace other place names. pejorative.
For the Washoe people, Lake Tahoe is especially important.
âIt is a sacred place,â said Pete’s daughter Karen Pete, who is also a member of the tribe.
The tribe’s founding story identifies the Alpine Lake on the California-Nevada border at an elevation of 1,890 meters (6,200 feet) as the center of the world for their people, both geographically and spiritually. .
The story explains how they viewed water as a form of life and were brought to the land that surrounded the lake by Gewe, the coyote. For thousands of years, the tribe has followed the seasons – summers in Tahoe, winters in the valley – and lived off the land not only to survive, but also to learn and carry on its traditions.
âThe areas around (the lake) are places where people get their food and the things they use like willow for baskets, medicine and plants,â said Karen Pete.
The documentary includes an interview with Ron Cohen, former COO of Palisades Tahoe, who was a big supporter of the resort’s renaming.
Cohen explained that the original stories paint an idyllic picture of settlers arriving in the area and coming into contact with Indigenous women and children in the valleys.
âBut what we learned when we did the research is that that is not what actually happened,â he said.
Cohen said the truth was that the settlers came to the field with the intention of killing the women, whom the settlers called “squaws.”
âThis name was given because someone had been murdered here,â he said.
Cara James-Denetsosie, another member of the Washoe tribe, said several women from the tribe visited the lake the day they heard, in August 2020, of the initial name change plans.
âWe sang songs and reconnected with the land, plants, water, mountains and animals,â she said.
“I will cherish these memories forever because it is important that we can maintain these relationships with land and water. It is even more important to pass them on to the next generation,” she said.
Tribe members are optimistic that the renaming of the resort will help raise awareness of all past injustices.
âI hope they understand and know what happened before,â said Dinah Pete. âOur younger generation now realizes what happened to women. “
James-Denetsosie said there are fewer and fewer elders to share the traditional culture of Washoe life.
âOur world is changing rapidly and is unpredictable due to the aridification of the land on which we now reside,â she said. âWe need to continue to educate people about our history. We need to remind them of the land they are on.