Gov. Gavin Newsom will now decide whether Squaw Valley in the foothills of eastern Fresno County will be renamed.
Members of some indigenous tribes say that “squaw” is derogatory, but other residents counter that they like the name and don’t want it changed.
The decision is in Newsom’s hands because Assembly Bill 2022 passed in the Assembly and in the Senate last week. The bill requires that “squaw” be removed as a place name in California.
But many Squaw Valley residents, including Rain Tree, prefer a change to “Yokuts Valley.”
“I am hopeful that Gov. Newsom will sign AB 2022 into law. It passed unanimously in both houses,” said Rain Tree. “My personal belief is that if ‘Yokuts Valley’ is selected as the new name, every tribe and tribal member would regard the new name of ‘Yokuts Valley’ as a great honor to each respective tribe indigenous to the area and collectively as Yokuts people.”
Who’s Behind the Bill?
In November 2021, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland formally declared “squaw” a derogatory term. Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican, is the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary.
Through a secretarial order, Haaland put together a federal task force to find replacement names for all valleys, lakes, creeks, and other sites on federal land bearing the name.
Assemblymembers James C. Ramos (D-Highland), the first California Native American elected to the state Legislature, and Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, introduced the bill earlier this year.
When Would The Name Change Happen?
If the bill is signed into law, starting Jan. 1, 2025, the term “squaw” would have to be removed from all geographic features and place names in the state.
If a local governing body fails to pick a replacement name within 180 days, the Natural Resources Agency would then require the California Advisory Committee on Geographic Names to consult with government agencies and advisory boards in replacing the name.
The bill would also require the committee to work with California Native American tribes on a list maintained by the Native American Heritage Commission to establish a procedure for receiving name recommendations.
Many Fresno County Tribes Remain Unrecognized by the U.S. Government
In Fresno County, there are many indigenous tribes but not all are federally recognized, said Rain Tree.
Rain Tree is working on a documentary to raise awareness of the struggles many tribes face by not being formally recognized as federally Acknowledged Native Americans.
“All year tribes have begun to mobilize to let their voices be heard about the continued lack of tribal acknowledgment,” said Rain Tree.
In the U.S., 25% of all active pending federal petitions for acknowledgment are in California. Fresno, Monterey, and Los Angeles counties make up nearly one-third of those petitions.
What Does a Name Change Entail for Squaw Valley?
In a Facebook Live video on Aug. 25, Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig addressed the legislative bill, criticizing state officials for making decisions that should be left to the local community.
“At the end of the day, all it means is our freedoms are taken away. Again my official position on Squaw Valley is while I’m not for or against the name change, the process needs to be driven at the local level by the people who have grown up there, by the people who have businesses there,” said Magsig.
In particular, Magsig was concerned with what a name change would mean to the residents and business owners in Squaw Valley.
“I think about individuals who have passports, your passports will have to be changed, your mailing addresses are going to have to be changed,” said Magsig. “Many people have signage over their businesses they have out there, all the signage is going to have to be changed at some point.”
Magsig advised residents who do not agree with the name change to write or call the governor’s office.
Ahead of the game, Rain Tree re-submitted his petition for a name change earlier this year that was amended and approved to “Yokuts Valley” as the proposed name change.
Since the news, Rain Tree has also written a letter to Assemblymembers Ramos and Garcia, and another to the governor urging them to sign the bill.