NYTimes: Goodbye, Yosemite. Hello, What?

Associate Professor Ben Madley and his important work mentioned in Daniel Duane's "Goodbye, Yosemite. Hello, What?" in the New York Times.

Published: September 2, 2017

HOTELS generally don’t figure prominently in my imagination, but Yosemite Valley does, and so does the glamorous Ahwahnee Hotel. When my father took me on Yosemite climbing trips in the 1980s, we never stayed at the Ahwahnee — it costs a fortune — but Dad always brought clean dress shirts so that we could hang out in the Ahwahnee’s kitschy Indian Room Bar before we slept illegally under the evergreens.

My parents even celebrated their 50th anniversary at the Ahwahnee, so I could be annoyed that the National Park Service recently renamed it the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, an exquisitely vapid choice. For reasons stemming from a contract dispute, the Park Service simultaneously renamed four other sites that have been dear to California families like mine for generations. So I could be outraged: They’re messing with my heritage!

Instead, I’m thrilled. The whole dumb episode is an opportunity for the National Park Service to dump dozens of place names that are the linguistic equivalents of Confederate statues. Much as those statues honor men willing to kill and die in defense of slavery, names like Ahwahnee falsify and celebrate the slaughter and land theft upon which our national parks were built.

Before Spanish missionaries arrived in the 18th century, there were an estimated 300,000 people in California. Violence and disease helped cut that number in half by the mid-1840s, when the United States military invaded. Then, in 1848, a gold nugget was found in a stream near Sacramento, setting off one of the largest mass migrations in American history.

Between 1846 and 1860, the non-Indian population of California leapt from some 14,000 to more than 300,000. Under Mexican law, native Californians had established rights, but after Anglo-American foreigners invaded sovereign Indian nations, those rights were stripped away. California became an American state in 1850. That same year, lawmakers legalized forcing American Indian children into white custody and barred Indians from voting, giving evidence against whites in criminal cases or serving as jurors. As a result, there are very few instances in which a white person was convicted of a violent crime against a California Indian between 1846 and 1873.

Posted September 5, 2017, 8:58 AM PST