Victory for Yokuts Valley

The old name of Squaw Valley (hereafter S-Valley) is out. The new name for the 93675 zip code is Yokuts Valley.

On Nov. 18, the California Advisory Committee on Geographical Names (CACGN) voted 8-0 to change the name to Yokuts Valley. Its recommendation now goes to the U.S. Board of Geographical Names (USBGN), which will finalize the recommendation in January 2023.

This process began two years ago when Roman Rain Tree, a local Indigenous member of the Dunlap Band of Mono Indians, with long connections to this valley, asked that the Fresno County Board of Supervisors (BOS) conduct impartial hearings on whether the valley should be renamed.

Over the past two years, the BOS has consistently opposed or passively resisted Rain Tree’s request.

Undaunted, Rain Tree did the work of gathering supporters including 35,000 names on a Change.org petition. The Rename S-Valley Coalition consists of local Indigenous people and other California residents; Residents for Renaming, a group of 93675 zip code residents; the ACLU of Northern California; Faith in the Valley; and two dozen other groups.

In November 2021, newly appointed Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous cabinet-level secretary in U.S. history, issued two orders.

The first, Order 3404, called for the elimination of the word sq–w from 650 place names in the United States. The reasons cited were that the word is actually an English word and not recognized by any Indigenous language in the United States; that it was used by White settlers to erase Indigenous names and places; and that it continues to contribute to normalizing the violence, rape and murder of Indigenous women. The word is a racist, sexist slur and has no business being an approved, official name for anyplace in the United States.

The second, Order 3405, created a sub-agency within the U.S. Geological Survey to oversee how new names should be selected. The order prioritized Indigenous input, honoring the very people and names whose ancestors had been murdered and displaced by genocidal bounty hunters and White settlers—for example, in 1863 the State of California paid $5 per “Indian” scalp.

With these federal actions in motion, California Assembly Members James Ramos (D–Highland) and Cristina Garcia (D–Bell Gardens) sponsored AB 2022 in January 2022. AB 2022 paralleled and added more detailed instructions to the federal orders, passing unanimously in the Assembly and the State Senate (how often does that happen?), and was signed into law by Governor Newsom on Sept. 23.

The renaming processes churned forward in the summer of 2022. By August, nearly all the 650 geographical features in Haaland’s federal orders had name changes. Outstanding were seven “populated places,” Fresno County’s S-Valley among them.

After being notified by the CACGN of the impending name change, District 5 Supervisor Nathan Magsig hastily called a community meeting. It was held on Sept. 20 at Bear Mountain Library, in S-Valley, and it was not without controversy. In fact, it was a total fiasco.

The overwhelmingly White crowd kept shouting down Rain Tree, not allowing him to speak. Magsig did nothing to rein in the angry and unruly mob. Ken Woodward, a local tribal head, also tried to speak, but Magsig cut him off just as Woodward began documenting the genocide that happened in this region.

Had six or eight sheriff’s deputies not been present, violence could have erupted.

In mid-September 2022, the CACGN opened an additional 60-day comment period for “populated places.” During this time, the BOS made a last futile attempt to thwart the name change by sending out an unscientific “ballot” to 1,400 households in S-Valley with the major “option” being to keep the name unchanged.

The supervisors then reported to the CACGN that 87% of the 635 respondents did not want the name to change, implying that their bogus survey represented the feelings of the majority of S-Valley residents.

Both public comment periods have now closed. The CACGN has met and approved Yokuts Valley as the new name. The USBGN ratification will be a mere formality. It is long past time to retire the insulting S-Valley and rename this beautiful place after its original caretakers, the Yokuts people.

  • Bayard Taylor

    Bayard Taylor is a resident of the 93675 zip code, a nature lover, the author of two books, a former English teacher and a master of divinity graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

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Homer Greene. Nice graphic.
Homer Greene. Nice graphic.
2 months ago

An excellent essay.

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