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Gavin Newsom Signs Bill Removing ‘Squaw’ from Names, Leaving Squaw Valley in Doubt

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Friday that would remove the word “squaw” from all geographic place names in California, declaring the term to be a “racist and sexist slur” — and leaving the town of Squaw Valley in an uproar.

AB 2022 declares: “The term ‘squaw’ is a racist and derogatory term that has historically been used as an offensive ethnic, racial, and sexist slur, particularly for indigenous women.” It says the word must be removed from over 100 names in the state.

The bill, signed on the day designated as Native American Day, follows an ongoing effort by the U.S. Department of Interior, under its first Native American secretary, Deb Haaland, to remove the word “squaw” from place names around the country. (Both the state and federal efforts avoid actually spelling out the word “squaw,” using “sw___” instead.)

While the move has generally been accepted, it has outraged some people who are attached to the word and do not feel it to be racist or sexist. The town of Squaw Valley, in Fresno County, for example, population 3,511, it outraged at the change.

The town’s name has been targeted (successfully) for two years by a local Native American activist, Roman Rain Tree. But residents never had the chance to comment publicly on the proposed change until earlier this month.

The Fresno Bee reported:

Anger defined the first public meeting in Squaw Valley about federal, state and local forces working to change the name of the rural Fresno County town.

The word is now widely considered a sexist slur, but not to most who spoke during Tuesday night’s meeting outside Bear Mountain Library, including some who identified as Native American.

Those who spoke in favor of a name change at the Squaw Valley meeting this week were consistently interrupted and yelled at, despite Magsig asking the crowd to give everyone a chance to be heard. Those who spoke in favor of keeping the name Squaw Valley were met with cheers and booming applause. Laughter also punctuated the meeting, including after one man asked if he’d have to someday change the name of his hoe farming tool and backhoe tractor. At least half a dozen Fresno County Sheriff’s Office deputies were present to keep peace.

It is still unclear how the new state law will affect the town, since the name is also undergoing review by the Department of the Interior, which exempted Squaw Valley from the change, among seven place names undergoing further department review.

The bill requires consultation with local communities over the selection of a new name, but as the Bee notes, residents at the recent meeting were so opposed to changing the name of Squaw Valley that they did not bother to consider any alternatives.

Last year, the Squaw Valley ski resort, where the 1960 Winter Olympics were held, was renamed “Palisades Tahoe.” The change came after Black Lives Matter protests that followed the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnestoa.


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