It started with online posts June 28 condemning the term "Squampton," which is seen on stickers and other items around town, and has been for two decades.
There is also the similar "Straight Outta Squampton" moniker that is a play on the 1988 U.S. rap album and song by N.W.A., "Straight Outta Compton."
The recent posts about the term "Squampton" put out a call to action for people to remove the stickers if they have them and to educate others on "why it is problematic."
"Today, the town of Squamish, where a small population of Skwxwu7mesh people still live, is otherwise filled with affluent young families who are here for the beautiful scenery, endless adventure activities, and proximity to Vancouver," the post reads, in part.
"With the world taking a hard look at racism right now, this mocking of Indigenous peoples needs to stop, and banishing 'Squampton' stickers seems like an easy place to start."
The reaction to the posts was swift and intense online and off.
At the time of this writing, there are 777 comments under the original post on Instagram.
Many resorted to name-calling and telling the poster to "be quiet" and to "go back to Toronto where you belong." Some joked of causing her harm.
The Squamish Chief has agreed not to name the poster, as she fears for her safety after the backlash.
Others chimed in that they also found the stickers troubling.
Several people contacted The Chief to say they found the stickers problematic in a 2020 context and many longtime locals who were in town when the term was coined contacted us to say it was a point of pride from a time when Squamish was the underdog.
Tantalus Bike Shop was selling the "Squampton" items, but has recently stopped after reflecting on the issues raised in the firestorm online. Store owner Al Ross said he didn't appreciate the way the issue was raised in a confrontational manner online by a newcomer, but added: "Squampton was born during a time when Squamish was looked down upon by others. We do realize that times are changing, and what was once a message of community pride, might be offensive to some today. To keep peace in our town, we decided to retire the 'Squampton' brand," he said in an email.
Asked for comment on the name, the Squamish Nation sent this statement from Coun. Orene Askew, who is a Squamish Nation spokesperson and is Black.
"I know that many Squamish residents, particularly those who grew up there, have a strong connection to the nickname, and it's been a source of pride for their hometown. I don't think anybody is saying the nickname was created with racist intent. But there doesn't have to be intent for something to be perceived as racist or offensive by a marginalized group," she said.
"What the people of Squamish really need to think about is whether their attachment to a nickname is more important than the feelings of the Black people who are saying this causes hurt for them. At the end of the day, it's not up to non-Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) to decide what is or isn't racist or cultural appropriation. We're in 2020 now, and it's time we all listen to BIPOC folks, and learn and grow together."
Annette Henry, a professor at UBC's Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, says that "Squampton" is a problematic term.
She noted that Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, was subjected to racist headlines that used the same "Straight Outta Compton" phrasing — even though Markle, who is Black, was born and raised elsewhere in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
It is almost always those in the dominant group making assumptions about people who aren't in the dominant group when these sayings are coined, she said.
"Look at all these terms. It is always white people talking about Black people or brown people," she said, noting, for example, that Brampton, Ont. has been called "Browntown," "Bramladesh" or "Singhdale" for its strong South Asian presence.
"It is definitely racism, no two ways about it. The people in Squamish wouldn't think that... but it is very much an uncritical way of thinking about race and what they are saying underneath. It is fun when you are in the dominant group. It is painful to those in the marginalized group."
She said the term 'white fragility' may apply to this situation in that the word "Squampton" is part of what has come to define Squamish to some people, so the reaction to re-evaluating it is quite severe.
"It is the statues, too. This is what defines us, too," she said, referring to the many statues of Confederate generals, officers and the like that are being toppled for the racism they displayed and represent.
Henry, who is also Black, said it is isolating to be a person of colour in the Lower Mainland and especially outside Vancouver proper.
"I think Squamish, as Vancouver, Burnaby — even places that are 'more diverse' — there is work to do," she said.
Jorge Alvarez Bardavid says he does not find the sticker racist and his print shop in Whistler has agreed to print the items, if need be.
He has been in the Sea to Sky Corridor for 35 years and says he has never experienced racism here.
"Not all the way from D'Arcy to Lions Bay," he said.
As an immigrant from Chile, he says he has no problem with "Squampton."
"As a minority, or Hispanic, from my point of view, not only did I not think anything was wrong with it, I have always thought it was one of the coolest things."
He added he has always admired the iconic font used for the name.
"It meant you are from Squamish. You are a local from Squamish and you like the outdoors, you like playing outside that is what it meant to me."
Bardavid said there are bigger issues of racism such as how, when recently a white, armed military reservist drove a pick-up truck through the gates of an estate where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lives, he was arrested without incident, but when Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam was pulled over for expired vehicle registration tags, he was beaten by police.
"So yes, we have a problem. But no, this [sticker] is not the problem."
Former Squamish resident Daryl LeDuke says "Squampton" was common vernacular in some circles when he was a kid in town.
His contribution to popularizing "Squampton" was getting it printed on stickers and clothing in the iconic old English font that was used by rapper Eazy-E on Compton hats. That was in 2003 when LeDuke was 18 years old.
"That particular era was very hard on Squamish," LeDuke said.
"From 2000 to 2005, industry packed up and left town. The pre-Olympic building boom had not yet started and the tourist mecca we know today was a decade or more away. Many families were forced to leave town to find work and housing prices were falling. Squamish had garnered some negative attention in the news for incidents where tourists were assaulted by locals, leading to a poor reputation in many ways," he added.
"At that time, 'Squampton' was most often used as a pejorative term by people from Vancouver and Whistler. I experienced this as a young teen racing mountain bikes on the BC Cup circuit with my friends. A significant portion of our fellow competitors came from Vancouver and Whistler. When we introduced ourselves, since kids have no filter, the reaction was often something like 'you're from 'Squampton'? that place is ghetto.'"
LeDuke said that at the time, locals really resented the way Squamish was looked down upon because this was the same era that produced stickers and slogans such as "Think Fast Hippie," "Fuck You I'm from Squamish, , and "Whistler is That Way."
"We were also fans of N.W.A and Eazy E. We understood the portmanteau and we decided to own it. One of the themes of the music is 'putting your home city on the map' and that really resonated with us."
LeDuke's friend's parents owned a sign-making shop and so he created stickers for his friends and a few other members of the local mountain bike community.
"We went out and represented our pride in 'Squampton' in the only fashion we knew how. We went out there to races and events and became some of the best riders in the country."
Other locals loved the "Squampton" merch, LeDuke recalled.
"I was often stopped by locals I knew and didn't know asking where they could get a hat or a sticker," he said.
"The popularity and longevity has been beyond what anyone could have ever anticipated."
LeDuke has not lived in town for a decade and is not surprised by the current controversy.
"There is nothing 'ghetto' about Squamish in any way whatsoever. The 'new' residents probably resent it for its inaccurate representation of the area."
To LeDuke, "Squampton" means cutting your own firewood, doing trail maintenance in the pouring rain, or supporting the coffee shop owned by your neighbour.
"There are no intentional racial connotations with the portmanteau, the connotation was intended to be interpreted as socioeconomic as Compton is, in reality, a multicultural community. I understand the concern and believe that it's important to have an open dialogue as social standards change," he said.
"Whatever happens moving forward, I hope when people look back at this situation they can agree it was the correct course of action. If this is the end, I hope it can be seen with nostalgia for a time gone by and not something contentious."
The role of gentrification
For many long-time locals who chimed in with support "Squampton" the issue at its core is old-versus-new Squamish and have-not Squamish, not racism.
Spencer Craig, who was born and raised in Squamish, talked about how he perceives the opposition to the sticker as from those who are new to town, are wealthy and are likely from an urban centre.
The opposition feels personal and a way to sweep away the anti-establishment, free-wheeling, fun-loving, rough-around-the-edges crowd who have been here for decades. The sticker is symbolic of one more thing long-time locals are being asked to give up, in other words.
"I think it is I gentrification issue," said Feet Banks, who with Craig, met with The Squamish Chief in person on July 10.
"That goes back to the history. People, A: don't like being told what to do. B: don't like being told by people who just showed up — there's a lack of context; and C: there's a sense of loss here, where [old] Squamish is saying, 'We were something, everyone made fun of us about it'.... and there is a sense that like, 'You guys used to shit on us. We took it. We took the power back and now all of a sudden you all want to move here — you are driving up the property values and you are making it so that we can't afford to live in our own houses, our friends and neighbours are moving away — and then you, the haves are going to tell us we aren't allowed to say that thing that you started calling us in the first place.' I think that is the real issue."
According to Craig, more than half his graduating class has left town due to the high cost of living here now. Most of his friends can't afford to live in the town they have known as home all their lives, he said.
Both Craig and others who wrote to the paper also expressed frustration with cancel culture, which abolishes something without real discussion.
"The world says that we are all entitled to our own opinion, but as soon as someone finds it offensive, we cave to their notion and lose our freedom of speech," Craig said.
Amber Grace is a white mother of a nine-year-old Black son who says that Squamish has a long way to go in understanding racism locally.
"It sucks, because I feel like my son is still going to be fighting this fight when he has kids," she said.
She tells the story of her son being made fun of by other kids for his 'different' hair and afterward, he wanted to wear a helmet/hat/hoodie to hide his hair.
She said she has often remained quiet about the inequity she has seen, but not anymore.
"I realize my own actions have been harmful in not speaking up about some of these issues," she said, noting white friends had previously vented to her about people of colour while she didn't say anything.
About the sticker, she said she respects the origin of it, but thinks it is not relevant to the wider conversation about racism in town.
"I don't understand how people are putting a sticker before a human being's experience," she said, adding she doesn't go so far as to call it racist.
"I don't go so far to give a sticker that much power over my son's experience — that said, as a white person, I don't get to decide that fully. That is my son's experience to decide for himself — and the rest of our Black, Indigenous and People of Colour community."
What shocked her was the vitriol that came up defending the sticker and that it arose so quickly when the topic was raised on various forums in town.
"It hurts on so many levels. This has brought out also how OK our community is with violence against women," she said, referencing that some of those who opposed the sticker felt scared for their physical safety after online threats.
Grace said she had her own anti-racism work to do.
"I will be frank with you. At one point I, as a white mother of a Black child said 'All Lives Matter,'" she said. "My trauma was triggered when all this first started years ago. I was thinking 'Shit, I've been through the wringer too. I've been sexually abused, I've been homeless, I've been raising my child on my own.'..so I was like, "What about my story?"
Acknowledging her own racism and trauma has helped her see things differently.
"Now I can be an ally. These past few weeks have shown me exactly how heavy this burden is to carry as an ally, but it's still nothing in comparison to the generational trauma that came from the systemic racism and oppression of the BIPOC community."
She said she has had to accept that as a white person, racism is part of her story she had to address.
"It is 1,000% my belief that white people are somewhere on the racism spectrum. We have to accept that and stop being so afraid of that word," she said.
"Everything I have access to is based on racism — the support that I have — all of it was built to help white people. So when you are the sole benefactor of that, you're inherently a racist."
She says ultimately, we need to have compassion for people on both sides.
"And move these conversations offline — because people say a lot of things they wouldn't say in person — then I think these conversations would be a lot more productive."
She points to a reaction to a U.K. children's book as an example Squamish could emulate in this moment.
The book had the word 'idiot' in it.
There was an uproar about the word and then people came to the realization they had three choices: they could not buy the book; buy the book and not read the word; or "we could choose to buy the book, read the word in the way it was intended and then have a conversation about it."
"I loved the third option. The sticker is like the book. I'm not going to go around teaching my kid to pick the stickers off people's cars or anything, but it is a catalyst for conversation."
Anti-racism work needed: a way forward
Squamish's Nadi Jones, an anti-racism educator, said the sticker discussion allows residents to discuss racism in general in town.
"There is some pretty deep-rooted systemic racism in this town. I have experienced it," said Jones, who has lived in Squamish for eight years.
"Squamish is undereducated in that area. I think the sticker isn't the big problem, but it did rip a Band-Aid off of a problem.
"But we are just waking up to this conversation and being able to talk about diversity and how our words and emblems and headlines and workplaces, how all these things are contributing to a systemic and racist foundation in this town."
She said the backlash that has arisen from the post about "Squampton" is why she didn't previously want to speak up about such things.
"To speak up about racism in a racist town, you are met with people saying, 'I don't have privilege. I am not racist and then it gets gaslit into, 'You are too sensitive,'" she said.
Jones said that the original poster could have approached the issue in a better way.
"Instead of being, 'I think we need to talk about this. I think this is a bigger conversation;' or, 'What are your thoughts?' It was, 'This needs to stop,' which when you are approaching a town with abrasiveness like that, the town is going to be abrasive, and come at you. It is going to bite back," she said.
"It is not about the sticker … It was about — wait a second, we are allowing something that is racist-implying and hurtful to people in our community and then when we try to talk about it, it turns into pointed fingers instead of process, listen, think, engage."
Now that the conversation has been started, she hopes to help keep it going.
She is working on having a virtual anti-racism town hall.
"I am really inspired by the idea of having a panel of mixed race [people], business owners, predominantly people of colour to use our voice — to use these fundamentals of what people need to know, what they need to listen to and unlearn and commit to and relearn and what actions need to be taken. If we could open a conversation like that right open, that is a really amazing thing, because that is a great opportunity to end racism in our own town — I got goose pimples — that is something I never thought would happen."
**Please note, this story has been corrected since it was first posted to say that LeDuke's friend's parents owned a sign shop, not his parents as was first written.