An effort to silence the Minden siren has begun in the Nevada Legislature.
A proposed amendment to Assembly Bill 88 includes statement "prohibiting a Nevada county from sounding a siren, bell or alarm at a time during which the siren, bell or alarm was previously sounded on specific days or times in association with an ordinance enacted by the county which required persons of a particular race, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin or color to leave the county or a city, town or township within the county by a certain time.”
A letter sent by Washoe Tribal Chairman Serrell Smokey on Aug. 6 2020, called on the town of Minden and the county to silence the siren.
“This is not a noise complaint, but an attempt to bring (resolution) to years of underlying racism and historical trauma and our town,” Smokey said. “The historical trauma of this piece of history has an effect on all generations of Washoe people, including the youth of today. It is a constant reminder of the oppression that was brought upon our ancestors.”
Smokey’s letter was dated the same day as a #BlackLivesMatter protest and counter protest occurred in Minden.
The Record-Courier contacted Town Manager JD Frisby, who declined comment. The newspaper has also reached out to Smokey and the author of the amendment Assemblyman Howard Watts.
Douglas County silenced the siren for two months in 2006 at the request of the Washoe Tribe because of the connection.
Residents then and now argued against turning off the siren, saying the Minden siren wasn’t around when the ordinance was expanded beyond the boundaries of Gardnerville.
However, the Gardnerville Fire Department purchased a new siren that was tested in 1917, and could be heard in Minden, according to Aug. 17, 1917, edition of The Record-Courier.
That same edition included the names of Washoes Joe Mack and George Dutchy, the first two men drafted to fight in World War I, though they weren’t allowed to be in town after 6:30 p.m.
The year is also when Douglas County moved into its new courthouse in Minden.
The ordinance, which was never constitutional, wasn’t repealed by the county until 1974 when the county’s code was compiled.
In 2006, The Record-Courier spoke with State Archivist Guy Rocha about the siren and its meaning to the Washoe.
“I spoke with Winona James, who told me that when the siren went off, they knew to get off the streets,” Rocha said. “She believed it to be true. It was her perception.”
Rocha conceded that there was not official public policy that the siren told the Washoe they had to leave town.
“There’s no question in my mind that the perception was planted somehow in the minds of Washoe people at that time.”
In an opinion published Sept. 29, 2006, Carnegie Smokey wrote Washoe had to eat out of the back of Carson Valley restaurants until the mid-1950s.
After a very public debate, the Minden Town Board voted to acquire and operate the siren to honor volunteer firefighters.
That was determined to be unnecessary by county commissioners who voted in November to restore the siren.
County officials turned the siren on again Nov. 10, 2006, re-dedicating it to emergency services and service in general.