Washoe Tribe successful in ‘Squaw’ name change effort

Brayden Stephenson, Managing Editor

After a multi-decade effort to persuade the resort formerly known as Squaw Valley to change its name, members of the local Washoe Tribe were finally successful. The resort announced this summer that it would rebrand as Palisades Tahoe. a new name and logo to start a new era for the storied site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games.
Tahoe’s most famous ski resort has been the center of social justice reform efforts of Washoe Tribe members and allies alike. The former name has long been considered a racist and sexist term among the Washoe People, advertising a derogatory reminder of the colonization of the area. Long before the area was known as a world-renowned freeride high-alpine playground, it was the summer hunting and gathering grounds to the then-nomadic Washoe People. With the arrival of white settlers came the massacre of Washoe women, a gruesome first impression in colonizers’ first experience with the valley, further reinforcing the oppressive significance of the previous name.

The new ‘Palisades Tahoe’ logo includes a reference to big mountain skier Shane McConkey.

On Sept. 13, Palisades revealed its new title in an official press release. The name also incorporates the mountain formerly known as Alpine Meadows.
“For more than a year, our community has been waiting, wondering and guessing what the new name for our mountains would be. Today marks the first day of the next chapter of our resort’s storied history. From our founding in 1949 and hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics, to the freeskiing pioneers and Olympians that put us on the map, the last seven decades have cemented our mountain’s place in the halls of ski history. While the name may be new, the legend and legacy of these valleys continue on, now as Palisades Tahoe.”
The new name is a nod to the fabled expert-level terrain near the top of the mountain. It is accompanied by a logo that celebrates the legendary Shane McConkey, the freeriding legend who recast the resort in popular ski culture as the proving ground for a new breed of progressive skiing. McConkey died attempting a ski-base (parachute) jump in 2009. A statue of an eagle marks the run known as McConkey’s (formerly called Eagle’s Nest), and it represented graphically in the Palisades logo.
Like many names changes to historical institutions, this one has not been universally embraced.
“I think the name change was pretty ineffective in the grand scheme of things,” Alex Mitchko, SNU alumni and local skier said. “The new name has very little meaning to a lot of people as opposed to its former name which shared sentimental value for those who fell in love with skiing there.”
A historically prominent location in the Tahoe Basin won’t outgrow its identity crisis easily. Despite public relations and ad campaigns the new name just doesn’t have the cache the resort has historically held. And, despite the name change, no effort was made to integrate representation of the Washoe People’s connection to the Olympic Valley.
“I wish the new name had more indigenous representation to give it more credibility or at least showcased something of more value,” Mitchko said. “Many people will refuse to call it Palisades because it feels ambiguous to locals, it isn’t a name that represents the uniqueness of the resort.”
“It’s going to take a lot more from Palisades to build more awareness around the issue of their old name.” Makenna Lyons, SNU freshman, said. “I think something like an educational center would promote more change and social awareness.”
Emily Tessmer SNU alumni, activist and musician, devoted her senior year project at SNU to the name-change effort, creating the documentary film, “Walking With My Sisters,” a story that elevates the voices of Washoe women and the accurate history of the valley.
“I feel grateful that I could be a resource for education during the process of the name change. The Washoe women were steeped in culture and awareness about their past. It was incredibly humbling,” Tessmer said.