Native groups say Yokuts Valley’s former name is a slur. Fresno County wants to change it back

A weather vane stands in the foreground of a view of a valley with snow-capped mountains in the distance.
Yokuts Valley is the new name of the census-designated community in Fresno County. Native American groups advocated for the change of this and hundreds of other geographic places that feature the S-word.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. It’s Wednesday, Jan. 31. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

A name battle rages in Fresno County

This town nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills is known as the Yokuts Valley in the eyes of the federal government, California Legislature and some residents. But in Fresno County it had been called by a different name: Squaw Valley, which Native American groups had long criticized as offensive. (I wrote the old name once for clarity, but will refer to it as the “S-word” moving forward.)

“The word, many Native Americans say, has been used as a slur and insult against Native women, part of a broader perpetuation of violence against them,” Times reporter Melissa Gomez wrote this week.


The renaming effort was one part of a larger effort to rename hundreds of geographic features and other sites that feature the S-word. In 2021, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland banned the word and ordered that it be changed wherever it was found. Then in 2022, California lawmakers passed and Gov. Newsom signed a law to remove the word from nearly 100 places in the state.

Although there’s been strong support at the state and federal level, Fresno County’s leaders are fighting the change to Yokuts Valley, home to about 3,600 people. Officials there filed a lawsuit against the state last year, arguing that the name change violated the 1st Amendment. A judge dismissed the case, though the county has said it will appeal.

Then in September, the County Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to put a measure on the March ballot to let voters decide whether that governing body has sole authority to change the names of places within its jurisdiction.

Native American activists had previously launched a community petition to change the name, which was sent as part of the federal appeal process. Members of the Dunlap Band of Mono Indians, whose ancestral home includes the area of Yokuts Valley, viewed the change as a victory. Some see the county’s ongoing opposition as an effort to sow political division during election season.

“Erasure and invisibility, that’s what we’re fighting against,” Morning Star Gali, executive director of Indigenous Justice, told Melissa. “It’s not just a word. It’s a word that holds that history and that context and that meaning.”

Although some scholars maintain the S-word originated as a generalized term for Native American women, others say the term was used to denigrate and dehumanize them.


Supervisor Nathan Magsig, who represents Yokuts Valley, pushed for the ballot measure and said changing places’ names is a “local matter” that should be left to the county to decide.

Magsig, formerly a youth pastor and mayor of Clovis, has questioned just how derogatory the S-word is. He told Melissa that “history is not perfect, but we need to not erase that.”

You can read more about this word battle in Melissa’s story.

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