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CA’s ‘Reexamining Our Past Initiative’ Addresses Discriminatory Place Names And More

Jamie Ferrell Jamie Ferrell

CA’s ‘Reexamining Our Past Initiative’ Addresses Discriminatory Place Names And More

The state is working to incorporate names that reflect a more complete history of Native Americans’ and African Americans’ contributions.

California State Parks’ Reimagining Our Past Initiative takes a critical look at many locations around the state still bearing names with a racist, derogatory, or inappropriate history. The State Parks’ Tribal Affairs Program is spearheading the effort to identify and change discriminatory names against Native American communities, with help from public input. Work is also underway to modify and update signage, exhibits, and educational material to reflect more complete and accurate histories. The initiative was originally announced in September 2020, but in the wake of Indigenous People’s Day it’s a good time to examine the steps that have been taken this year.

Sue-meg State Park

Kirt Edblom via Flickr

This state park north of Eureka was previously named Patrick’s Point State Park, for homesteader Patrick Beegan who was accused of murdering numerous Native Americans. The park, which is on land used by Yurok people for centuries, has been named Sue-meg State Park, which is the place’s original Yurok name. This tribe built villages and thrived on the coast here for centuries until being exploited, dispossessed, and targeted by Euro-American settlers who came seeking gold beginning in 1850. The Yurok Tribe put in a formal request to rename the area, and the change was approved unanimously on September 30, 2021. The park features stunning natural landscapes, a Sue-meg village, family houses, changing houses, sweathouses, and a dance structure meant for cultural education.

Negro Bar

UncleVinny, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Folsom Lake State Recreation Area near Sacramento is home to a gravel bar namedNegro Bar (originally named with the n-word until the 1960s). It’s so named for the many Black miners who prospected for gold there in the 1850s. After public comments from a 2018 petition criticizing the name, State Parks has led an effort to review it. Some African American community leaders and historians have expressed support for the name, while others and many members of the public interpret it as upholding an outdated racist term. At the moment State Parks continues to “[recognize] that such interpretations can change over time” and asserts that ” interpretation, or lack thereof, is the largest factor in misunderstanding the name Negro Bar.” They continue to receive public input from scholars, activists, and visitors, and you can email planning@park.ca.gov to learn about future input opportunities.

Founders Groves at Humboldt Redwoods and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks

Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Prarie Creek Redwoods State Park are both home to Founders Groves, redwood groves honoring park founders including Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn. Both Grant and Osborn were leading eugenicists of their day, espousing racist and anti-Semitic views that had wide-reaching influence in creating xenophobic laws around the country.

The Save the Redwoods League, State Parks, and students from Humboldt State University placed new panels at Humboldt Redwoods and Prairie Creek Redwoods entitled “The Tangled Roots of Founders Grove.” The new panels clarify the fact that these founders “equated saving the world’s tallest trees with preserving white supremacy.” The panels also uplift the spiritual relationship that the Lolangkok tribal members continue to maintain with the redwoods, even after suffering terrible treatment and genocide at the hands of European immigrants. The department is also working to remove Madison Grant’s name completely from the memorial redwood groves and will request public input for re-dedications.

Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park

California’s Spanish Mission system is a constant reminder of Native American oppression all across California. Santa Cruz Mission specifically has been updating some exhibits, signage, and their website with input from the Amah Mutsun people, whose ancestors, the Uypi people, originally inhabited the lands where the mission was built.

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One such change was to remove a mission bell which previously marked part of El Camino Real. The bells are painful reminders to Indigenous populations, whose ancestors’ lives and schedules were dictated by the ringing of the bells. The bell in Santa Cruz was stolen the night before the removal ceremony this past August, but the city has since updated the site with a memorial sign describing the bell’s significance and removal. The site will soon house a permanent memorial.

Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park

Epp, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Sutter’s Fort has been a common field trip destination for kids across the state for decades. This year, the park released a statement acknowledging their role in sharing an incomplete perspective on the site’s history, and have since collaborated with CA Native American groups in an effort to correct it.

“The failure to fully incorporate that history in the park’s interpretation programs has led to an unbalanced perspective about John Sutter and his legacy, along with that of other settlers,” they wrote. “The near-exclusion of California Native Americans’ lived experiences in this story also has led to a failure to acknowledge how this historic site represents a painful reminder of that history to their descendants.”

The 2018 brochure still listed on their website is noticeably light-handed when it comes to Sutter’s abhorrent treatment of indigenous populations, calling it “controversial.” According to the statement, Sutter’s Fort plans to create new exhibit plans and educational materials for student programs and museum visitors. You can learn more and provide input by emailing Capital District Superintendent John Fraser at john.fraser@parks.ca.gov.

 

Featured image: Kirt Edblom via Flickr

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