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Fresno County defies Biden and Newsom administrations on move to rename Squaw Valley

Fresno Bee 10/13/2022 Melissa Montalvo, The Fresno Bee
Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig, who represents the Squaw Valley area, talks about his resolution on deciding on the renaming of the town by the majority of its residents in response to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, during a meeting of the board of supervisors on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. © CRAIG KOHLRUSS/Fresno Bee/TNS Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig, who represents the Squaw Valley area, talks about his resolution on deciding on the renaming of the town by the majority of its residents in response to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, during a meeting of the board of supervisors on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022.

Fresno County supervisors formally oppose changing the name of the east-county mountain community of Squaw Valley — and are considering an official ballot vote on the name change.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution acknowledging what they say represents the majority of the Squaw Valley community’s opposition to a name change. Three of the five supervisors voted to approve the resolution, with Supervisor Sal Quintero voting against the resolution. Board Chair Brian Pacheco was absent from the meeting.

Supervisor Steve Brandau said the resolution is intended to tell people in Washington and Sacramento that “there’s an awful lot of dissent here in Squaw Valley” with the name change.

While the resolution serves as the county’s official response to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names regarding the proposed name change of Squaw Valley, it doesn’t stop the name change process from moving forward.

Brandau, who said he’s still not convinced the term is offensive, said he plans to talk with the county’s legal team about the possibility of an official ballot vote on the name change for Squaw Valley voters.

“Then, we would have probably more legal standing to support the local decision,” he said.

The vote in favor of the resolution came after over an hour of around 30 public comments from a mix of Squaw Valley and Fresno County residents at large who both opposed and supported the name change.

Many Squaw Valley residents who spoke in opposition to the name change on Tuesday said they don’t think it’s offensive, and blamed “cancel culture” and “the woke agenda” for the push to change the name. Others said they were concerned about the cost to local businesses and residents associated with the name change.

“We’re proud of our community, we’re proud of our community name,” Lonnie Work, a resident of Squaw Valley and chairman of the Save Squaw Valley committee, said during public comment.

Those in favor of the change said it’s an offensive, racist term, and that supervisors are wrong for not embracing the change.

“Ignorance isn’t an excuse for staying in the same lane,” Fresno County resident Gloria Hernandez said during public comment.

Squaw Valley name change process

The term squaw – widely considered to be a slur against Native and Indigenous women, akin to calling someone the C-word, a slur for a woman’s genitalia – is being removed from federal and state lands.

In November 2021, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued a secretarial order declaring the term derogatory and ordering its removal from federal lands. Then, on Sept. 23, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 2022, which removes the term from California places by 2025.

Separately, in January, the “Change S Valley” coalition, led by Roman Rain Tree, a member of the local Dunlap Band of Mono Indians and Choinumni tribes, submitted a formal proposal to the federal BGN to request changing the name of Squaw Valley.

Supervisor Nathan Magsig, who represents the Squaw Valley area, said the name change process hasn’t given enough priority to local residents’ input. In the resolution he authored, Magsig said the new California law “usurps local control.”

But supervisors acknowledged that the process is moving forward and they might not be able to stop it.

“The federal government has divided us…and yet we’re powerless to do anything,” Supervisor Sal Quintero said. “We can give them our opinion and our thoughts, but they’ve made their decision.”

While the federal task force will consider the local community’s feedback, ultimately, the task force has the final decision on the name change.

According to a letter from the BGN, the California Advisory Committee on Geographic Names has also been asked to review the proposed change and is expected to make a decision at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Majority of residents oppose name change, informal poll finds

In August, the BGN sent a letter to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors to solicit feedback on the Task Force’s proposal to rename Squaw Valley to Yokuts Valley.

The BGN will also receive input from the California Advisory Committee on Geographic Names, as well as from federally recognized American Indian Tribes on the name change, BGN officials told The Bee in January.

In response to the BGN’s letter, Magsig conducted an informal poll of Squaw Valley residents.

Magsig’s office sent ballots to Squaw Valley households based on the 2020 Census Data, he said during Tuesday’s meeting. Of the 1,435 ballots sent out, Magsig said about 635 ballots were returned.

Squaw Valley has around 3,500 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Of these ballots received, 87% opposed the name change. A separate community petition gathered over 500 signatures that opposed renaming Squaw Valley.

Furthermore, the poll found that the top three names that respondents preferred for a name change were: Bear Mountain, Dunlap (expanding the name of the neighboring community to include Squaw Valley) or Bear Valley.

Currently, the BGN’s top alternative name is Yokuts Valley.

Magsig acknowledged that the process wasn’t perfect, but he stands beside the process and the resolution.

“This is not 100% scientific, but I’m using the best tools at my disposal,” he said.

Criticism of the feedback process

During Tuesday’s meeting, residents complained about the process from all sides.

Some said they were concerned with federal and state attempting to take more power from local municipalities with the new laws and executive orders.

Others said they didn’t get to voice their opinions because they never received a ballot.

Linda Tubach, a resident of Squaw Valley in favor of the name change, said she doesn’t think the ballots represent the “majority” of the community, since people were able to photocopy the ballots and mail them in.

She also criticized the meeting Magsig hosted on Sept. 20, which drew hundreds of attendees. The meeting was marked by anger, and there was booming applause for those who spoke in favor of keeping the name. Magsig said the meeting showed him that a majority of the attendees do not want a name change.

But Tubach said there was “no equitable exchange of views,” and that there wasn’t adequate notice of the meeting in advance.

Work, of the Save Squaw Valley committee, added that people only received three days notice for the meeting.

“You didn’t hold a public hearing and you held a meeting that was announced only on your Facebook,” said Hernandez of Fresno County. “That’s not local control – that’s your control.”

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