The view of Moosehead Lake and Big Moose Mountain as seen from Blair Hill in Greenville. Press Herald file photo

The owner of a ski area near Moosehead Lake is dismissing an effort to change the name of the resort to remove a derogatory reference to Native American women.

Three Maine women started circulating a petition Thursday afternoon on Change.org on Facebook, two days after Squaw Valley Ski Resort in California announced it would change its name because it recently “was confronted with the overwhelming evidence that the term ‘squaw’ is considered offensive.” The Lake Tahoe ski area, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, announced it would change its name at the end of the 2021 winter season.

The name of the mountain where the Maine resort is located was changed 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. Big Squaw Mountain is now Big Moose Mountain, but the law did not extend to names of private businesses and entities.

The women said they asked the nonprofit that runs the Big Squaw Mountain ski resort for help getting the name changed, but got no results, and the ski area’s owner, James Confalone, says he has no plans to do so.

“Why would I ever do that?” Confalone asked in a phone interview Thursday. “What do you think the Kennedy compound in Massachusetts is called? Squaw Island. If it’s good enough for the Kennedys, it’s good enough for me. When this issue was first raised (in the early 2000s) we had 200 calls a day come into the hotel, and not one person said they wanted the name changed.”

Confalone said the resort’s current name “memorialized the head of the Native American household.”

“It has nothing to do with insulting anyone,” Confalone said. “People in Maine don’t know what property rights are. They think they own everything. We have the legal right to name it (what we want).”

Today, the ski area is not operated by Confalone but by a nonprofit friends group that – before the petition was launched Thursday – also used the term in its name on its Facebook page. Amy Lane, the head of the friends group, said in an email Thursday evening that she changed the friends group’s Facebook page name Thursday from The Friends of Squaw Mountain to The Friends of the Mountain.

The emblem on the Facebook page still said “The Friends of Squaw Mountain” and the social-media handle on the group page was still @FriendsofSquaw on Thursday.

“As the mountain ownership and name changes, so will (ours). However this is not a decision that is ours to make,” Lane said of the name of the resort.

Maulian Dana, the Penobscot Nation tribal ambassador, speaks in 2018 at a meeting concerning the mascot for Skowhegan schools’ sports teams. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

The three Maine women – Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana, Morgan Hynd of Warren, and Sarah Bigney of Skowhegan – hope the California resort’s plan to change its 70-year-old name raises greater awareness in Maine around the issue.

Dana, who testified last year on the legislation that banned the use of Native American names for school mascots, said the national movement to erase stereotypes and harmful symbols has been gaining momentum.

“I’ve been working on activism around these mascot names for more than 20 years. Now, in recent months Land-O-Lakes butter and Aunt Jemima syrup removed the imagery from those products,” Dana said (although the face of an African American woman is still on the syrup bottle). “The idea is that these stereotypes and caricatures of a whole group of people are offensive. We need to start seeing people as people.”

Hynd and Bigney, friends and skiers, decided last winter it was time for their favorite Maine ski area to do the same. They reached out to Dana to ask for help, and they’ve approached Lane, Hynd said. But so far, there’s no indication the ski area will drop the term.

“I love the community and the spirit there – but I’ve always been uncomfortable with the name,” Hynd said. “With everything going on in the country right now, white people need to stand alongside people of color in this country and fight for justice. It starts by making businesses and place names not use racial slurs. It’s not OK.”

Both women said they planned to boycott the resort this year although, Hynd said, they’re not sure if they will ask others to do so. As of 8 p.m. Thursday, 75 people had signed the petition – and the number was quickly climbing.

“I call it the Moosehead ski area or Greenville ski mountain and hope people know what I’m talking about,” Bigney said. “It’s something I’ve learned from Maulian – that even referencing that word is hurtful today. ”

Confalone purchased the mountain and ski area in 1995, but in the early 2000s, he stopped operating the small ski area. Several years later, the nonprofit Friends group was founded to keep the area open.

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