California park with racist past gets new Indigenous name

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Skip Lowry learned the indigenous dances of the Yurok people as a child by watching the elders gather in the summer in a reconstructed village along the coast of Humboldt County in northern California.

The village, completed in 1990, has always been a place of healing for Lowry, a descendant of the Yurok – but there was also a lingering injury. It’s in a state park named after a man accused of killing a Native American boy and committing other atrocities against Native people in the 1800s.

“It’s always been a slap in the face and a punch in my stomach,” Lowry said.

But that changed on Thursday when the California State Park and Recreation Commission made the unprecedented decision to rename the 625-acre park. The change, effective immediately, removed Patrick’s Point State Park’s nickname and restored its native Yurok name: Sue-meg.

The 5-0 vote marks the first time a California park has been renamed as part of a statewide effort to identify and rectify derogatory names attached to parks and transportation systems, said people. department managers.

Supporters hope the move will usher in the restoration of other Indigenous place names in California and across the country. Various institutions, including schools, towns and ski resorts, have tackled these problems.

Sara Barth, Commissioner of Pleasanton Parks, called the name change “an opportunity to right a historic wrong” and echoed the widespread sentiment among the Yurok people that it represents the restoration of an inappropriately taken name. .

Although Yurok Tribe President Joseph L. James said justice could not be done for the deceased boy, “we can go in the right direction – a cure,” he told attendees. meeting before the vote. “And good healing today takes direct action” to rename the park.

The history of the park is dominated by the dark legacy of Patrick Beegan, an Irish settler who in 1851 owned a claim in the area and established a ranch, according to a presentation given by Victor Bjelajac, a superintendent of state parks of the North Coast Redwoods District. During his time in the field, Beegan was accused of killing a Native American boy and allegedly fled. The authorities sold the land.

The Yurok people have been in the area “since time immemorial,” Bjelajac said, noting that as early as 1928 state officials wanted to designate it as a place for the tribe. In the same year, the construction of a traditional village was proposed – although it took decades to materialize. The state acquired the park in 1930 and named it Patrick’s Point in 1963.

A striking rock formation lies off the coast of State Park lands near the site of an ancient Yurok village that served as an important commercial and cultural center where tribes seasonally gathered to fish. The name of the rock – and now the name of the park – is Sue-meg (pronounced “Sue-mae”).

Although interpretations vary, Lowry said the name would translate to “usually done” or “always done.” The eponymous rock has always been there, he says, even obscured by the waves.

The new name is suitable for Indigenous peoples who have survived oppression and violence while living on the land for thousands of years, Lowry said. The Yuroks still perform ceremonies in the area.

“I’m so upset,” Lowry said after the vote, heartbreaking with joy. “My children will not have to face the pain I have suffered.”

Lowry, 41, can trace his lineage from his mother’s side for 10 generations to a village along the Klamath River. He is also an interpreter for the national park and gives tours of the recreated village, where he immersed himself in his ancestral culture while growing up.

Her son, K’nek’nek ‘, now 12, had a protective paintbrush dance performed there when he was a baby. Instead of growing up “overshadowed” by the name Beegan, Lowry said, his children will know a different story: how the park’s name was taken – and how their family helped make that change.

In recent years, the local True North Organizing Network, which coordinates an intertribal council to identify names deemed offensive to Indigenous peoples, has facilitated conversations around the name change. (Lowry sits on the True North board of directors in a capacity unrelated to his work for the state park.)

The Yurok Tribe, who sit on the council, made a formal request this year to rename Patrick’s Point, the culmination of a long-standing desire.

Terry Supahan, executive director of True North and a member of the Karuk Tribe, said he hopes the success of the Yurok Tribe will be a catalyst, with more name changes to come.

It is not an improbable dream. While the move is a first for California state parks, there has been a more significant cultural shift.

In 2015, President Obama changed the name of North America’s tallest mountain from Mount McKinley, in honor of the former president, to Denali, Alaska’s native name for the towering peak. .

Last month, the historic Squaw Valley ski resort near Lake Tahoe became Palisades Tahoe after its owners determined the term “squaw” was offensive to Indigenous women.

“Trying to honor and celebrate Indigenous and Indigenous names is good for all of us,” Supahan said. “This is a good step towards healing and recognizing the genocide and the historical trauma that came before us.”


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