Fresno BOS looks to keep geographical naming local

Fresno County Board of Supervisors approve Supervisor Magsig’s motion to assert local authority over name changes; prompts accusations of racism at meeting over Yokuts Valley name change

”Welcome to Squaw Valley” sign, located off of HWY 180 near Bear Mountain Library. (Kenny Goodman)
”Welcome to Squaw Valley” sign, located off of HWY 180 near Bear Mountain Library. (Kenny Goodman)
Darren Fraser
Published September 22, 2023  • 
1:00 pm

FRESNO COUNTY – At its Sept. 19 meeting, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted in favor of adding an amendment to the county’s charter on the March 5, 2024 ballot. If approved by voters, this would grant the BOS the final say when it comes to naming geographic features; or locations within the unincorporated areas of Fresno County, like Yokuts Valley.

This amendment was submitted by Supervisor Nathan Magsig, District 5, and was passed with a 3-2 vote.

“Last year California passed AB 2022, which formed a committee that can deem any place name in California as being offensive,” Magsig said, addressing the chamber. “I have concerns with this. I think it’s always important to have as much local control as possible.”

Magsig added that when it comes to areas where the county has jurisdiction, BOS is the entity that should make those (name) changes.

Supervisor Brian Pacheco, District 1, was one of the two supervisors who voted against the resolution.

“In my opinion, this issue or procedure has already been decided,” said Pacheco. “Federal government supersedes the state, state supersedes the county.”

SQUAW OR YOKUTS

Magsig’s resolution affects the entire county of Fresno, but the controversy surrounding his resolution pertains to Yokuts Valley which, until Jan. 12, 2023, was named Squaw Valley.

Assembly Bill (AB) 2022 was passed on Sept. 23, 2022. According to the bill, “Commencing on January 2025, this bill would require the term ‘squaw’ to be removed from all geographic features and place names in the state.” 

But the U.S. Board of Geographic, not waiting for AB 2022’s effective date, voted on Jan. 12 to update U.S. Geological Survey maps, changing the name from Squaw to Yokuts. 

Magsig said this change does not align with the results of a survey he sent to area residents.

“We sent a survey. Six hundred and fifty residents responded and 87% said they wanted to keep the name as it is,” he said. 

Magsig said media outlets picked up on the name change, which explains why – despite the fact the area is mostly private land and there have been no outward indications that the name has been changed – residents and the public at large have become embroiled in this dispute.

In his remarks, Magsig, whose district includes Yokuts Valley, did not directly refer to Squaw or Yokuts. He acknowledged the controversy but re-emphasized that his reason for submitting his resolution was to seize the control of naming county roads and places from the state and return it to the county and to the voters.

“It’s important for my constituents’ voices to be heard,” he said.

BLATANT RACISM

Not everyone shared Magsig’s opinion that his intentions were simply centered on enforcing jurisdiction. During public comments, Roman Rain Tree contested Magsig’s statement that the AB 2022 committee acts with impunity.

“You’re wrong,” Rain Tree said. “I should know. I helped author that legislation.”

Rain Tree said Magsig’s resolution was another example of Fresno County’s institutional racism. Addressing Magsig directly, Rain Tree said, “It’s funny. You never sat down to talk to me. The only time we’ve ever talked, Mr. Magsig is like this (public comments).” 

Rain Tree added that in July 2021, he came to the council and suggested changing the name to Bear Mountain Valley – a name currently under consideration as an alternative to Yokuts.

“You guys blew me off and didn’t want to listen to me,” he said.

Rain Tree said Yokuts was the name that the consensus of the Native Community of Fresno County decided upon. He accused BOS of not playing by the rules.

“To this day, you have yet to accept what the state and the federal government have decided,” Rain Tree said. “Instead, you want to change the rules we are all bound to play by. It’s disgusting. The blatant racism. You should be ashamed.”

BEING ERASED

Yokuts Valley resident Rosanne Dominguez said she supports Magsig’s resolution.

“I feel I am being erased (by the name change),” Dominguez said.

Dominguez said her family has lived in the area for generations. She said her ancestors in the area date back to the Conquistadors. To her, squaw is not a derogatory word.

“Women are strong. Women continue the human race. Squaw means woman,” she said.

FOLLOWING THE FED’S LEAD

AB 2022 is California’s response to the federal government’s position on the use of “squaw.” In a Feb. 22, 2022 press release, U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said, “Words matter, particularly in our work to make our nation’s public lands and waters accessible and welcoming to people of all backgrounds.”

On Nov. 21, 2019, Haaland issued Secretarial Order 3404, which officially declared the term “squaw” as derogatory. The order established the 13-member Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force to find replacement names for more than 660 federal lands or features that contain the word “squaw.”

Darren Fraser
Reporter