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A measure that would have granted local control over name changes of unincorporated county places went down in defeat in Fresno County, California on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Measure  B was on the ballot in Fresno County because local officials opposed the federal and state governments wanting to change the name Squaw Valley to Yokuts Valley.

Fresno County Registrar of Voters reports Measure B failed on a 63.75% to 36.25% vote.

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For decades, Native Americans have long oppose the usage of the S-word because it is offensive because it is derogatory to Native women. In her first year as secretary of the Interior in late 2021, Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) declared the term derogatory and racist.

"Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands. Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage — not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression,” Haaland said.

To accomplish the removal of the derogatory term, Haaland issued Secretarial Order 3404 that formally identified the term “squaw” as derogatory and created a federal task force to find replacement names for geographic features on federal lands bearing the term. 

In a separate move, in 2022, California Assemblyman James C. Ramos authored AB 2022, legislation banning the use of the S-word from geographic features and places in the state. The legislation passed and California Governor Gavin Newsom signed it into law.

“We are appreciative that Fresno County voters opposed efforts to circumvent a law that removes the ‘S word’ as a place name. As a state we stand opposed to a word that demeans women and Native Americans.” Ramos said on Thursday. 

Ramos maintains the S-word contributes to making Native American women appear less than others. 

“That ignorance and bigotry is a factor in the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. I am happy to see that voters chose to close the door on this painful chapter of Native American history,” Ramos added.

Ramos, the first and only California Native American elected to the state legislature, is chairperson of the California Native American Legislative Caucus.

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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].