The last prominent place in Maine featuring a derogatory reference to Native Americans is in store for a name change.

A group of investors working to buy a Greenville ski area called Big Squaw Mountain Resort has vowed to rename the ski area when the sale becomes final. The name is a racist, misogynist reference to Indigenous women.

Perry Williams, a managing partner at Big Lake Development Co. who is leading the effort to purchase 1,700 acres on Big Moose Mountain that includes the ski area, said he has a purchase and sales agreement with resort owner James Confalone and expects to close on the property in the coming months.

And at some point soon after the sale, Williams said the ski area will be renamed. A new name has yet to be determined, he said.

“It’s going to change. There is no doubt about that,” said Williams, who has worked to buy the ski area the past three years.

“I met with the Native American community. That’s their desire and it’s ours, too. It always has been. We will look at different names and consider what the right one will be. It’s not as easy as it sounds. But we are definitely changing the name. We want to do the right thing.”

The name change would be the latest effort in Maine and across the country to eliminate imagery and names that are derogatory toward Native Americans. And the ski area in Greenville may be one of the last holdouts in Maine. James Francis, the Penobscot Nation tribal historian, said, “From my work, I don’t see many more offensive place names in the state.”

Two weeks ago, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland declared she was taking steps to remove derogatory terms such as the one featured in the Greenville ski area’s name from federal government use.

The name of the mountain in Greenville was changed to Big Moose Mountain following passage of a law signed in 2000 by then-Gov. Angus King requiring that the slur be removed from the names of public place names such as towns, mountains and lakes. But the law did not extend to names of private businesses and entities, such as the ski area.

An online petition on Change.org demanded a name change for the resort in August 2020, asking the nonprofit friends group that has run the ski area since 2012 to assist in the change. But Confalone, the resort’s owner, told the Portland Press Herald at that time he had no intention of changing the name.

Penobscot National Tribe Ambassador Maulian Dana said of the prospective owners’ plans to change the name: “It’s about time.”

“We’ve had a law on the books for nearly 20 years to remove this harmful racial slur from place names in Maine and unfortunately the resort has time and time again embraced a racist practice instead of progressing,” Dana added. “I am glad that in 2021 we finally have movement on this. I am thankful that the Wabanaki and Indigenous women and two spirits will have one less reminder of deep trauma as we move about our homeland.”

The anticipated change in Greenville comes amid a national movement to remove offensive names and imagery regarding Native Americans, in some cases after years of resistance to do so. Cleveland’s major league baseball team retired its Chief Wahoo logo in 2018, and earlier this month officially changed the team’s name from Indians to Guardians. Last year, the Washington NFL team dropped its Redskins nickname. The Squaw Valley Ski Resort in California, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, announced last year that it would change its name to Palisades Tahoe.

In Maine, there were contentious discussions in recent years about the use of Native American imagery at schools, with supporters saying that the imagery honored Native Americans and critics saying the images perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

In 2018, the Wells-Ogunquit school board voted to remove imagery associated with its Warriors nickname at Wells High. In 2019, the Skowhegan school board retired the nickname Indians, making it the last school district in Maine to end the use of Native American nicknames and imagery for its sports teams. Two months later, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law a bill that made the state the first in the nation to prohibit the use of Native American mascots at public schools and colleges.

At that time, Francis, the Penobscot Nation’s historian, said: “The argument has always been that ‘we are honoring you.’ By passing this legislation the State of Maine is truly honoring Native Americans.”

Morgan Hynd of Warren, along with Dana and Sarah Bigney of Skowhegan, started the online petition seeking a name change for the Greenville ski area in 2020.

“It’s interesting how this word was used for so long in this land to dehumanize Indigenous women here,” Hynd said. “You see the damage throughout history to Indigenous women and the damage it continues to do as so many Indigenous women are murdered and go missing all the time. It devalues life through the use of this language.”

None of the 337 ski areas in the United States that are part of the National Ski Areas Association use the offensive name in their name, said Adrienne Saia Isaac, communications director for the group. In all, there are 462 ski areas in the U.S. – including the Greenville ski area – and she said she was unsure if any others use the term. 

The Greenville ski area opened in December 1963 with four trails, a 600-foot T-Bar and the derogatory term in the original name, according to the New England Ski Museum. In 1967, the resort was dramatically expanded with the addition of a double chairlift to the upper mountain and another five miles of trails, which increased the vertical drop by about 1,100 feet to 1,700 feet – making the ski area at that time the second largest in Maine, according to the museum.

But the ski area changed owners several times and in 2004 the upper lift stopped working.

Williams’ investment team’s vision is to create a vibrant, four-season resort with access to Moosehead Lake and a premier ski area with views from the top. The project has been in the works for three years, and Williams said would be unlike anything else in Maine. Not even Saddleback that looks out over Rangeley Lake would match it, he said.

Already, Williams has done market research and looked into permitting. He plans to replace the chairlift, build a new lodge, greatly enhance snowmaking, and much more.

“It needs everything,” Williams said. “The views from the top are unbelievable. You see Mt. Katahdin and all of Moosehead Lake and all that protected land. It’s a true wilderness.”

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