Minden Must Face It’s History
Minden, Nevada is a beautiful place. The picturesque town is located only about 30 minutes from Lake Tahoe and is part of a growing mountain bike and snowboarding scene that links trails throughout the Carson Valley and the east side of Lake Tahoe.
Earlier this summer, right around the beginning of the George Floyd protests, I started reading books about racism. By far the most powerful book I read was How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram Kendi. He made the point that the most efficient way to combat racism is to get good at finding and changing racist policies wherever they exist.
We formed Riders Against Racism soon after, as a way to use mountain biking to bring attention to specific racist policies on a campaign by campaign basis. Mountain biking is exploding in popularity right now, so the group seemed like a good way to spread awareness about breaking down barriers that keep the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities locked out of the sport of mountain biking and other outdoor recreation opportunities.
Our next challenge was to find a specific racist policy to build a campaign around. A few days later I was talking to my sister-in-law and she told me about the Minden “sundown” siren. Though many locals will tell you that the siren has “nothing to do with racism,” the troubling truth is that the siren coincided for decades with a “sundown” ordinance that was on the books in Minden from 1917 to 1974. This ordinance stated that all Washoe people must be out of town by sunset. The current siren, next to the firehouse in Minden, was installed in the late 1940s. So from the late 1940s to 1974, the current siren was a reminder to all Washoe people to leave town or face incarceration, beatings, or worse. Washoe elders tell stories handed down generation to generation about how the siren was a reminder that the Washoe had thirty minutes to leave town after they heard the siren.
I did a google search and came up with some local articles on the subject. In 2006 the tribe made an official request for the town to please stop the 6pm siren. The town briefly honored this request but then started the nightly siren again after about two months as a way to honor first responders. The oppressive history of the siren was swept under the carpet like it never happened.
Right after learning the awful truth about the siren, we started a petition. We got over 5000 signatures in just four days. Here is how the petition read:
Here is the link to the petition
In 2006 the Washoe Tribe of Nevada asked the towns of Minden and Gardnerville to stop the daily siren. Using historical documents, the Washoe showed the original purpose of the siren was to enforce a 1917 Douglas County ordinance that required all “Indians” to be out of Minden and Gardnerville by 6:30 pm.
Minden and Gardnerville were “Sundown Towns,” meaning everyone who wasn’t White had to leave town by sunset. The siren was temporarily halted after the Washoe request in 2006, but resumed after a vote established its popularity among Whites.
Generations later the ordinance is gone but the siren remains an ugly reminder of a racist past. Let’s call the siren what it is: a racist ritual designed to keep the Washoe Tribe “in their place.” This hateful siren has no place in 2020 America.
If you are a resident or visitor of beautiful Douglas County NV (or just don’t like racism) please sign this petition to support the Washoe people and eliminate the siren. The siren may be “no big deal” to some, but it’s a painful reminder of a dark chapter in the history of the Washoe people. America is better than this.