U.S. Department of Interior Declares “Squaw” Offensive

Written by Amanda Angulo

On Friday, the U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland had declared “squaw” as a derogatory word and is now starting the process of removing it from federal government use and replacing other derogatory names.

Two days earlier, activists in Fresno urged their leaders to rename Squaw Valley during a Fresno County Board of Supervisors meeting. However, efforts to rename the valley have not gotten momentum for a year and a half after their launch. 

Some supporters blame Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig. Most say that he has been claiming to be a part of a meeting that he will not organize, but will attend. Yet , once a group led by Roman Rain Tree, a member of the local Dunlap Band of Mono and Choinumni tribe, tried to organize a meeting with Magsig at a public library in Squaw Valley, but Magsig and his staff “keeps moving the goalposts back,” said Rain Tree. 

“I’m just one person. I have a full-time job. And you want me to do that?” commented Rain Tree. “You’re the supervisor. You’re the elected official with staff – get to it.” Magsig said he was surprised by the Secretary’s announcement, but that it would not affect his decision, “I’ve shared with them that really the first thing that they need to do is to have a community meeting in Squaw Valley, where the residents of Squaw Valley have an opportunity to come and voice their opinions as well. My goal is to not pick one side or the other but to hear from all sides and then make a decision which I believe is in the best interest of Fresno County.”

Under Haaland, a task force will replace names for geographic features on federal lands that have the term “squaw”, which was used as a slur towards Indigenous women. There are over 650 federal sites with names containing that term, according to a database maintained by the Board on Geographic Names. The process to change these names can take years. Haaland has also recommended an advisory committee that will review other federal geographic places that have “offensive” names. 

Also, just to clarify, the Squaw Valley mentioned here is different from the Squaw Valley that hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, which is in Placer County. That location changed their name to Olympic Valley, as well as their resort from Squaw Valley Ski Resort to Palisades Tahoe, just earlier this year. The tribes in that region were asking for a name change on the resort for decades. 

Photo Cred: Alex Wong/ Getty Images