California County to Sue State for Changing Squaw Valley’s Name

By Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.
March 20, 2023Updated: March 20, 2023

Naomi Singh grew up a Wuksachi tribal member in Squaw Valley, a rural unincorporated town in central California. Her roots go back at least four generations.

The valley surrounding her is rich in Native American history and home to many different tribes and native communities. But, a treaty broken nearly two centuries ago has left many of them unrecognized by the federal government and without some of the benefits other tribes receive.

This year, the government again upset many of them by renaming the town without asking, Singh said.

“I’m hurt, more than anything, because it’s my homeland,” she told The Epoch Times. “That’s where I grew up. It’s where my tribe is from.”

In January, a federal committee renamed Squaw Valley to Yokuts Valley after deciding the term “squaw” was a slur against Native American women. The decision has rocked the small community of about 3,500 located 220 miles north of Los Angeles.

“It’s pretty offensive,” Singh said. “Nobody ever directly came to us and asked us anything regarding it. It doesn’t come from the people. It came from one person, and he doesn’t represent us.”

Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig has tried to tell state and federal officials that most residents didn’t want the change, he told The Epoch Times. According to a survey he took of residents, 87 percent didn’t want it, he said.

Fresno County voted March 14 to sue California over a new state law passed last year that paved the way for the federal decision.

“A consultation of residents in the community never took place by the state or federal government,” Magsig told The Epoch Times. “Residents in the community have communicated to me they don’t want their name changed, and if it is changed, they want to be part of that process.”

The movement started two years ago with a decision made by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first indigenous cabinet member in history, who determined the name “squaw” was derogatory. She banned it from all federal communications and ordered the Board on Geographic Names—the federal body tasked with naming geographic places—to remove the term from federal usage.

Over the next year, the board changed nearly 650 geographical places and five unincorporated towns.

In California, 70 state locations and geological features, as well as Squaw Valley and Squaw Hill, a town in Tehama County, were rebranded.

Haaland, who has not yet visited the community, can’t comment on pending litigation about the Squaw Valley name change, her office told The Epoch Times.

‘My Journey’

The man who spearheaded the movement in Fresno County is Roman Rain Tree, a member of the Dunlap Band of Mono and Choinumni tribes. The idea came to him after talking about it with his dying mother 10 years ago, he said.

“This is my journey,” Rain Tree told The Epoch Times.

Rain Tree felt that his tribe would never be taken seriously by the federal government if their ancestral home was named after a slur, he said.

His official campaign started in 2020 and was quickly adopted by the American Civil Liberties Union and other activists. A variety of names were considered, but the group settled on “Yokuts Valley” in honor of the Yokut people native to the region.

“Yokuts means people, and it acknowledges the language and tips a hat to the first inhabitants, but it belongs to everybody,” Rain Tree added.

Several bands of Yokut live throughout the area now, but they are also not federally recognized.

“Maybe it’s time that this broken system gets acknowledged,” Rain Tree said. “We’re native people. We have to suffer in silence. And our elder people who are the last of the ways, they’re going by the wayside. We’re at a point where we face a genocide through bureaucracy.”