The Fresno Area Coalition Calling to Change the Name of Squaw Valley has submitted a formal proposal to the federal government to change the name of the census designated place to Fresno County.
The name change request was submitted to the United States Board of Geographical Names on Jan. 1, said Roman Rain Tree, the leader of the coalition.
“We submitted because we found ourselves at an impasse with the (Fresno County) Supervisory Board. We believe they should use the resources of their elected position to organize a meeting or put it on a future agenda, ”Rain Tree said.
The new name currently being considered by the BGN is “Nuum Valley”.
For nearly a year, Rain Tree, a Fresno County resident and member of the local Dunlap Band of the Mono and Choinumni tribes, led a charge to rename Squaw Valley, but said he had not been in able to make inroads with Fresno County officials.
As local debate began to heat up last November, US Home Secretary Deb Haaland officially said the term was derogatory to Indigenous women and would take action to remove it from federal lands, six of which are located in Fresno County.
Proposals to rename zones – a process that can take years – will be accelerated by order of Haaland.
The timing of the announcement and the new process with the BGN gave the local coalition a new idea of how to bypass the deadlock in communication with the Fresno County Supervisory Board.
“What a positive improvement this has made for our group,” Rain Tree said of the federal decision. “Where did we think ‘where are we going now with this?’ “
Rain Tree said he hopes the name change process will revitalize local dialogue over a new name for the census-designated mountainous rural area in eastern Fresno County.
“That was really the intention of the decision,” Rain Tree said. “The (Fresno County) Board of Supervisors and Supervisor (Nathan) Magsig will not have a meeting. Maybe these folks (the US Board on Geographic Names) will say, “Hey, you’ve got to have a meeting, supervisor.”
Magsig on the name change: “Local voices must be heard”
In an interview with The Bee on Wednesday, Magsig said he learned of the new developments in an email he received from Rain Tree on Tuesday.
He said he was “unhappy” that there had been a lot of effort by others outside of Squaw Valley when he said that from the start he asked Rain Tree and his group to organize a meeting with the residents and is ready to provide county resources. However, he did not offer to host a community meeting.
Magsig also added that he was open to a name change if it was driven by the people of Squaw Valley, “not by people who don’t live in the area,” he said.
Rain Tree also said he and the coalition were open to other names and suggested Nuum Valley as they were required to come up with another name.
“We’re not stuck on the word ‘Nuum’,” Rain Tree said. “Change it to Bear Mountain Valley, change it to Yokuts Valley, change it to something else.”
In an email shared with The Bee, BGN representatives also expressed the need for more public opinion and said they would contact the Fresno County Oversight Board, as well as the California Advisory Committee on geographic names, as well as all Native American tribes recognized by the federal government.
Once all parties have had the opportunity to provide their recommendations, the review committee will present the Nuum Valley proposal to the BGN for discussion and final decision. The whole process usually takes several months.
Although Magsig said he has yet to hear from BGN comment on the potential name change, he said that “if they choose to reach out, I’m happy to have a dialogue with them. “said Magsig.
Ultimately, he said his top priority was that “local voices must be heard,” Magsig said.
One of those local voices is Connie Work, a resident of Squaw Valley for decades.
Work, 69, owner of Branded Calf B&B in Squaw Valley, said she understands the term is offensive to a growing number of Indigenous people, though she is confused that she hasn’t heard many complaints about the name in the past.
“Does that make it less pejorative?” No, ”said the Squaw Valley resident for decades.
“If any of them thinks it’s a derogatory term, then I understand their point,” Work said.
However, she said local businesses “have to go to great lengths” to change their government documents, business documents and more if the name change is approved. “This is a major undertaking for a very depressed region,” said Work.
She also said she didn’t like any of the alternative names on offer and believed Squaw Valley should be part of the neighboring census area of Dunlap instead.
What local organizations are supporting the name change?
A number of California and local Central Valley organizations have submitted institutional letters of support for the name change request. Here is the list :
Northern California ACLU Foundation
Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño (CBDIO)
Fresno Barrios Unidos
Sacramento Valley / Central California Council on American-Islamic Relations
Family Planning Mar Monte
The natives of the central valley for change
99 Rootz / Power California
Institute of Sovereign Bodies
Leadership advice for justice and accountability; Fresno
Building healthy communities
Central Valley Partnership
Restoring Justice to Indigenous Peoples
Democratic Socialists of America Fresno
October 4 Coalition Fresno
The Wiyot tribe
Faith in the Valley
California State University, Fresno School of Sociology
Communities for a New California Education Fund
California Poor Campaign Coordinating Committee
Stand up for Racial Justice (SURJ), Chapter of Santa Maria
This story was originally published January 5, 2022 5:22 pm.