By Ava Schwartzapfel
SQ**W VALLEY, CA – The ACLU of Northern California released a Youtube video entitled “Rename S-Valley” which argues a need to rename a town whose name is a well-known slur towards Indigenous Native American women. See: www.aclunc.org/changethename
The town, Sq**w Valley, is found near Lake Tahoe, CA, and has a population of about 3,600 people. It was home to the Winter Olympics in 1960.
The narrator, who we learn to be Roman Rain Tree, begins by stating that Webster’s dictionary defines this slur, squaw, to be “offensive” and “outdated.” Several states have even outlawed the use of this term, including Montana, Oregon, Maine and Minnesota, according to the LA Times.
Rain Tree explains that his late mother, Gina Charley, is his motivation for working to change this demeaning name, noting that before his mother had passed, Rain Tree had asked his mother if she thought it would be possible for their Native American tribe to be federally recognized.
Charley responded by encouraging her son to get the offensive name changed if he wanted to see that happen.
“When we use language that degrades and dehumanizes people, it sends the message that their lives are not worth protecting,” Rain Tree said. The proposed new name of this town is Nuum Valley, the term nuum meaning “the people.”
He then shared statistics from the National Congress of American Indians’ Policy Research Center which showed that nearly half of Native Americans report having experienced sexual violence, and that over one-third of Native American women will be raped in their lifetime.
Furthermore, Rain Tree added that missing and murdered indigenous women cases in California alone are among the highest in the nation.
“Our towns and landmarks should be named after things and people we honor and celebrate,” Rain Tree says, explaining that this slur goes against the values that their community strives to foster.