Protest ride from Minden to Tahoe aims to silence sunset siren
ZEPHYR COVE, Nev. — A siren every evening at 6 p.m. provides Washoe Tribe members with a grim reminder of their past.
An ordinance dated July 7, 1908 declared that after sunset each day that Washoe Tribe members must leave the town or be prosecuted.
“Any and all Indians (except such as are actually employed as servants in the town of Gardnerville) remaining in said town of Gardnerville after sunset of each and every day are hereby declared a public nuisance and considered detrimental to the county in general and the town of Gardnerville in particular,” the ordinance stated.
The sad irony of the ordinance was that it required the tribe members to leave the land that originally belonged to them.
“It was during a time when we were refugees in our own land,” said Marty Meeden, descendant of the Washoe Tribe.
The ordinance was repealed in 1974 but the sunset siren continued ringing. In 2006, the tribe petitioned to have the siren turned off, however shortly after it was turned off, the Minden Town Board voted to turn the siren back on. It was declared to now be rung in support of first responders.
However, for Meeden and other members of the tribe, it still acts as a painful reminder of their past.
“It’s still a black pot, no matter how you want to look at it,” Meeden said. “If you change the reason for ringing it, then change the time it rings because 6 p.m. means something.”
Last summer, Matt Niswonger, co-founder of Riders Against Racism, heard about the siren from his sister-in-law who grew up in Minden and he said he was “horrified.”
Since then, he’s partnered with Meeden and the tribe to help with their cause. RAR started a petition to have the siren turned off, which has received 13,100 signatures.
“The Minden Sundown Siren is hurting the Washoe. Therefore it hurts Lake Tahoe. Therefore that siren hurts everyone who loves this lake,” a post from RAR said. “One cannot separate the Washoe from Lake Tahoe. They are a part of the Tahoe Basin just like the clear water and the majestic views.”
To raise awareness, Niswonger is hosting a protest ride on Saturday, May 29, that will start in Minden, and go into the trails surrounding the area, many of which used to belong to the tribe, and finish at Round Hill Pines at Lake Tahoe.
“All native tribes traded with each other and those trade routes were very important,” Meeden said.
Since the Washoe people didn’t spend winters in Lake Tahoe, many of the existing roads and trails were used by them to migrate into the valley.
“The protest ride is to bring awareness to the sunset siren and the trail that were used by Washoe,” Niswonger said. “It’s to acknowledge that history and hopefully give back by taking down the siren.”
While the Washoe have been fighting the siren battle for decades, Meeden said he’s grateful for all the help he can get.
“As long as the siren is turned off, it’s a form of healing for everyone,” Meeden said.
Meeden adds that what some people cancel culture, he likes to call “education culture.”
“Our native youth know what the siren means but many kids sitting next to them don’t know what it means,” Meeden said.
Meeden said because of COVID, the protest ride will be the first time the organizers are able to meet in person and he’s excited about meeting everyone and talking about next steps.
To register for the ride, visit https://www.bikereg.com/50415.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the original ordinance in 1908 did not call for the siren to be sounded.
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