California Bill to Ban the Word ‘Squaw’ Moves to Governor’s Desk

California Bill to Ban the Word ‘Squaw’ Moves to Governor’s Desk
The California state capitol building in Sacramento on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Jill McLaughlin

A bill to ban the word “squaw”—deemed offensive by some to describe Native American women—within California is headed to the governor for final approval after clearing the state Legislature Aug. 25.

If Gov. Gavin Newsom signs it into law, the name “squaw” will be removed from all rivers, markers, and places that use the name beginning in 2024.

Assembly Bill [AB] 2022 passed the Senate unanimously Aug. 25. The bill’s author, Assemblyman James Ramos (D-San Bernardino), the first and only Native American to be elected to the California Assembly, celebrated the approval.

“Hooray! My AB 2022 to ban the use of the ‘S’ word [squaw] in California and establishes a process [for] renaming locations with that offensive racial and sexist term which began as a derogatory word used against Native American women. It now goes to the governor,” Ramos wrote on Twitter.

An analysis by the state Assembly found that the term had no tribal origin west of the Mississippi River and was used for many decades by early California settlers in reference to Native American women.

More than 100 place names in more than 25 counties in the state use “squaw,” including Squaw Valley, Squaw Creek, Squaw Peak, and Squaw Hollow.

Past efforts to change Squaw Valley, a town of about 3,500 people in Fresno County, have been unsuccessful.

Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig, who represents some Native American tribes located in his district, said he doesn’t oppose the effort but believed it should be driven by local communities.

“I believe if there are any name changes like this, it has to be driven at the local level,” Magsig told The Epoch Times.

One of the tribes in the area calls themselves Squaw Valley Tribe or the Squaw Valley Band of Waxahachi Indians, he said.

“My question to the State Legislature is this: Are you going to force this Native American tribe to change their name as well?” Magsig said on a Facebook livestream.

The bill only allows federally listed tribes to participate in the process. Magsig said he hopes local tribal members will be allowed to participate in the name changes.

“Hopefully, all Native Americans will be involved,” Magsig said. “I don’t want outside groups to be involved in this process. The people who live here have ownership. It’s personal for them.”

In many cases, local tribes were involved in picking the original names to honor Native American women who were part of Eastern Fresno Valley, Magsig said.

In the Lake Tahoe area, owners of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows ski resort changed its name last year to Palisades Tahoe after pressure from indigenous groups.

The resort, which hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, determined the word “squaw” was “derogatory and offensive,” according to its website.

“Our old name didn’t match our values, our spirit, or who we are,” the resort said in a YouTube video. “Progress is impossible without change.”

The state legislation calls for a state committee to choose new names for the locations if a local governing body fails to do it within six months.

The bill requires the committee to work with California Native American tribes to establish a procedure for receiving name recommendations. It also requires public agencies to no longer replace signs, interpretive markers, or any other printed material with the word “squaw.”

Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior Deb Haaland of New Mexico, also a Native American, declared “squaw” a derogatory term in November 2021 and created a committee to identify and replace the name on geographic features on federal lands bearing the name.

Haaland ordered the Board on Geographic Names—the federal body tasked with naming geographic places—to implement procedures to remove the term from federal usage.

“Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands. Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage—not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression,” Haaland said in a statement.

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.