The smallest place in the world to ever host the Olympic Games, Squaw Valley is actually a ski resort, not a town, however because the resort is so popular, and it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot else in the area, the whole community is known as Squaw Valley, (the official name is Olympic Valley, California). Squaw Valley hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1960.
So, how did Squaw Valley come to be called Squaw Valley? Much like Lake Placid we’re not 100% sure, but we do know a little more about Squaw Valley. According to Historical Notes by Hal V. Hall:
Before the white settlers migrated and established their homes and way of life in the valley. During late summer and early autumn, prior to the migration of the abundant deer herds and before the winter snows, it was the ancient custom of the Washoe men, the hunters of their tribe, to harvest winter food with an annual hunt in the high ridges radiating from the Squaw Pass area. While the men were thus engaged, the Squaw camp remained in the valley. The first white men to visit Squaw Valley found it occupied by a camp of “squaws” and children, engaged in food gathering.
So, when the first white men came to Squaw Valley, they found the valley occupied by only “squaws,” (at the time, “squaw” simply meant “native woman”), and their children, and, we assume, called the valley Squaw Valley. We need to speak about the word Squaw. It comes from the Algonquian family of languages and translates roughly to “woman” in english. Its origins are not derogatory at all, but unfortunately it has come to be viewed as a derogatory term by many. To learn more about the history of the word I highly recommend reading Reclaiming the Word “Squaw” in the Name of the Ancestors by Marge Bruchac.
So, to recap, when white people first came to Squaw Valley, the only native people they found were women. Since, the word that was being used by white people at the time for native women was squaw, the valley was named Squaw Valley, and the word Squaw is borrowed from the Algonquian languages, and means, roughly, “woman.”
Special thanks to Katherine at Squaw Valley USA for filling me on on some historical details of Squaw Valley.
While she originally defends the name “squaw,” Marge Bruchac seems to agree that changing Squaw Valley’s name would be a good idea because of the connotation, not denotation, associated with the word squaw. I wonder if Katherine at Squaw USA would agree to change the name.