At the Oct. 11 meeting of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors (BOS), the supervisors showed how out of touch they are with the demographics of the county and seemingly out of touch with reality. The reality is that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has declared the term squaw (hereafter, “the ‘s’ word”) offensive and derogatory and removed and replaced it in more than 650 geographic place names on federal lands.
Seven unincorporated “populated” places across the country, including S-Valley 93675, are still under federal review. However, California Assembly Bill 2022, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Indigenous People’s Day, mandates that the name be replaced everywhere in the state by 2025.
Nonetheless, on Oct. 11, the BOS voted 3 to 1 to send a message from a minority of S-Valley residents against the name change to state and federal authorities. Supervisor Sal Quintero voted against the measure, and Supervisor Brian Pacheco was absent.
The BOS meeting room was full with the crowd overflowing into the lobby. During the public comment on the item, 17 people spoke in support of the name change (many were residents of S-Valley) and 14 people spoke against it.
Those favoring the name change allowed the opposition to go first. Unfortunately, many of those opposing the name change, and some of the supervisors, employed the disinformation strategies of denial and deflection. Against all evidence, they denied that the “s” word is a slur.
Many of those opposing the name change did not speak to the moral issue at the heart of this dispute, the continued use of a derogatory word, which many consider a racist and sexist term. Instead, they referred to the Fourth Amendment (due process) and the 10th Amendment (states’ and local communities’ rights over the federal government).
Some spoke of the danger of “wokeness,” the “communists” among us and “erasure.” Others spoke of “cancel culture” as if the dominant White culture could be canceled by federal decree.
A woman mentioned “forced assimilation,” an ironic claim, given that for hundreds of years Whites have forced non-Whites to assimilate to their culture.
Some speakers said that it’s going to be inconvenient to change addresses and documents and that there might be costs associated with that, which is true. It will be inconvenient and there could be costs, but it is the right thing to do.
Listening to public testimony, it appears that the “no name change” people are reacting with extreme anger, lack of evidence and spurious arguments to a moral issue.
Supervisor Nathan Magsig said that he wanted to keep the meeting “constructive.” He said “opinions were exchanged” at the Sept. 20 meeting of the BOS. (In fact, there was no honest “exchange of ideas” at that meeting but rather an atmosphere of threats and barely concealed violence.)
Supervisor Steve Brandau said that it’s “not proven to me [that the “s” word] is a terrible word.” He also said that now “power has been taken from us by the feds and the state” and “outsiders are telling us how to live.”
Yet, he also claimed that he’s “more neutral on the name change” and that the majority of residents should decide. Brandau also said (accurately) that the informal “survey” on the name change would not be recognized legally.
All the supervisors and the county attorney agreed that the BOS, who some call “The Five Little Kings,” are powerless to do anything about the federal and state mandates to change the name, with Magsig even admitting that “the Board of Supervisors, on its own, cannot stand on top of or pass a law which pushes aside the state or federal governments.”
Yet, the BOS still voted 3 to 1 to accept the results of a flawed survey, for which the final results were based on “ballots” returned from only 15% of S-Valley residents. Brandau said that the BOS wants to send a message to the state and federal governments that there is “dissension” on the name change.
Furthermore, showing how brazen and ignorant they are, two of the supervisors encouraged a lawsuit and called for a special election on the matter—both of which would be paid for by Fresno County taxpayers. “The courts might say AB 2022 and the feds have overstepped,” Magsig said. Indeed, there should be a special election—an election to recall Supervisors Magsig and Brandau.
The 17 people speaking for the name change spoke with passion and honesty. Delaine Bill, of Mono/Yokut heritage, called the “s” word racist, sexist and demeaning. He said that “my father and other elders spoke against the name and were not listened to. The [continued] use of the word is the County’s fault, it’s racial.”
Gloria Hernandez, a longtime human rights defender, told Magsig, “You didn’t hold a public hearing, and you held a meeting that was announced only on your Facebook page. That’s not ‘local control’—that’s your control!”
Bayard Taylor, an S-Valley resident, said that “the White settlers committed genocide and land theft, then put bounties on the heads of Indigenous men and named the area S-Valley. It’s time to make amends.”
Another S-Valley resident, Ronan, said, “I loved growing up here. But now I’m too embarrassed to say the name of my town. Even if [the “s” word] hurts only one person, that is too much harm done and we’re still allowing official names to contain hurtful and derogatory words.
“It’s not about ‘the woke agenda.’ It’s about understanding and acknowledging our history.”
Linda Tubach, an S-Valley resident, criticized the survey process as flawed. She also said that “the first recorded settler in Yokuts was Simpson Drake in 1868, after the area was depopulated by bounty hunters.”
Some locals say that when the first settlers arrived, the majority of the population was women, thus S-Valley. At the time, there was a $5 bounty on the heads of Indigenous men so that might be the reason.
Others spoke to the issue of the rampant violence against Indigenous women throughout the United States and how the dehumanizing “s” word contributes to the rape, kidnapping and murder of Indigenous women.
A young man named Ron mentioned “the humanity of people” and how shameful it is that so much race-baiting was going on. He described the “s” word as “racist, sexist and dehumanizing.”
He added that “people say, ‘This is the woke generation.’ This generation should be woke! What’s offensive to one should be offensive to all. People should be woke. People should be offended by predatory, racist, sexist words directed at one group of people.”
A young man named Ronni said that “the native people from S-Valley, they are my elders. In this urban setting, we the two-spirit people, LGBTQ people in your culture, say [the “s” word] is like calling me a ‘fag.’ I am a proud Indigenous person. My existence is my resistance. We will fight [the use of] the s- word until the end.”
Rieka Raintree, addressing Magsig, said, “You received a letter from my husband [Roman] telling you that our lives were threatened at the meeting in S-Valley. You replied that it wasn’t true and called us liars. We have it all recorded, and it is true.
“As I speak right now, in the Facebook group that you say nothing happened in, there are threats against us. Your fake ballot doesn’t reflect the views of the community.
“The men up here [the supervisors] are one demographic and need to be replaced. You don’t reflect the demographics of this county, you don’t respect all of the people of S-Valley and it’s time for you to go.”
Many other thoughtful comments were made by supporters of the name change. In the end, the BOS, even though they voted 3 to 1 for a nonbinding resolution that exposed their biases, incompetence and undemocratic tactics, lost.