For the Washoe, the Minden siren symbolizes oppression and loss of the lands they once freely traversed. For the older residents of Minden, it is a symbol of home — a tribute to the volunteer firefighters and ranchers coming home from the fields.
The siren hasn’t been used in an emergency in the 21st century. It could be, but by the time it was activated, thousands of cell phones would have already alerted residents to any danger, whether fire, flood, earthquake or nuclear attack.
A bill that prohibits the sounding of a siren that is associated with a sundown law may receive its final approval in the Nevada Assembly and be sent to the governor to sign. Silencing the siren was an afterthought in Assembly Bill 88, which requires schools and local governments to stop using names and mascots with racial or confederate connotations.
With an estimated $9.3 million price tag to rebrand the UNLV Rebels, the entire bill is a somewhat expensive way to make a point.
Silencing the siren is likely the least costly item that would result from Assembly Bill 88 becoming law. Should the bill become law, the question becomes if and how it will be enforced?
Is it possible the siren could get a trial? More likely the result would be a public meeting where Valley residents could express their opinions.
And therein lies one of the issues with the siren. Better historians than us have looked back through the records and haven’t been able to document a direct connection between the siren and the clearly unconstitutional sundown laws enacted in Douglas County in the first two decades of the 20th century.
We believe the elders, who reported Washoe were beaten and arrested if they dared remain in town after sunset.
But like many symbols of oppression, the siren’s significance has grown in the telling. We have also heard that Washoe were served in Gardnerville bars after sunset in the 1960s, well before the ordinances were repealed in 1974.
On Saturday, activists planning a bicycle ride from Minden to Lake Tahoe to protest the siren may well have something to celebrate. It’s what happens next that will be the real story.