Minden siren on for two days, silent now

Minden's siren blew exactly four times on Wednesday and Thursday and then fell silent.

Minden Town Board members plan to discuss establishing their own siren on Oct. 4 in response to the shutdown of the noon and 6 p.m. siren, which has blown for decades.

The siren was ordered turned off by County Manager Dan Holler, who said it was done in deference to the Washoe Tribe, which said the siren was established to tell Indians to get out of town.

A 1908 ordinance ordering Indians out of Gardnerville was amended in 1917 to include Minden and the time changed from sunset to 6:30 p.m.

According to the 1917 ordinance, any Indian found in town after 6:30 p.m. was subject to a $25 fine and being jailed for up to 10 days.

The April 6, 1917, ordinance does not specifically mention a means of warning Indians when 6:30 p.m. was approaching.

Tribal Chairman A. Brian Wallace said Thursday the siren was part of a past that included a painful reality for natives.

"It's not my siren," he said. "We didn't pass the ordinance nor did we repeal it. We didn't turn it on and we didn't turn it off. It is part of a past that was imbued by a narrower view of community, one we've moved on beyond. We're very proud of this Valley and our role in it."

The ordinance was repealed in 1974 because it was clearly unconstitutional, said former Douglas County District Attorney Steve McMorris of Genoa.

"I remember this particular ordinance and telling the three commissioners that there are some that stood out as patently unconstitutional."

McMorris was given the task of compiling the county code by District Attorney Howard McKibben when he first came to work for the county.

"I can tell you I never knew there was any connection between the Indians and the siren," McMorris said. "We never got any complaints on it."

McMorris spent the six months between the time he was hired and when he took the bar exam scouring county offices for ordinances that were often filed away in a cabinet or in someone's desk drawer.

"They were certainly not online," he said. "You had to go to the department. It took quite a while to go through them. It was a fascinating process and we learned a lot."

McMorris said the 1919 ordinance was the only one of its nature left on the books when he arrived.

State Archivist Guy Rocha said that while he could not find an official link between the siren and the ordinances requiring Indians to leave town, there was a link in the minds of the Washoe people.

"I spoke with Winona James, who told me that when the siren went off, they knew to get off the streets," he said. "She believed it to be true. It was her perception. In all probability there was no official public policy that the siren was to be used in an additional way to tell people they have to leave the town, but there's no question in my mind that the perception was planted somehow in the minds of Washoe people at that time."

Wallace said he was more concerned by the reaction to the siren pointing out that there are lots of federal lands which don't pay property taxes and that Indians participate in fire services with the Bureau of Land Management.

He said that has one of the largest employers in the Valley, the tribe has been determined to provide more than $72 million a year in goods and services to the county's economy.

"We don't believe that economic diversification is the exclusive franchise of anybody," he said.

The Tribe runs headstart programs for all of Western Nevada.

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