The year is 2021, but every night at 6 p.m., a rural Nevada town transports itself back to 1908—a time when a siren warned non-white individuals, mainly Native Americans, to return home for the evening.
That racist relic is finally being retired.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a bill Friday to ban the use of "sundown sirens" in certain cities and prohibit other measures insensitive to Native Americans. The bill, passed by the Nevada legislature last month, also banned schools from "racially discriminatory" imagery or mascots.
Critics say the sirens have their roots in a 1908 ordinance in Gardnerville, a town that borders Minden, requiring all non-white individuals to be home by 6:30 p.m., a decree that targeted Native Americans. That was expanded in 1917 when Douglas County, which houses both towns, adopted the law and imposed a $25 fine, jail time, or both on violators. The siren was later moved to Minden, where it's been ever since.
The ordinance was repealed in 1974 when it was ruled unconstitutional, but the siren remained a tradition.
Residents of Minden (pop. of 3,150) have said the siren is part of the town's culture, and is not a racist symbol. Rather, Minden officials have said, a 2006 resolution states the siren honored local volunteers.
But local Washoe Tribe Chairman Serrell Smokey called the siren a "living piece of historical trauma" in a Facebook video last year discussing the racist legacy.
“It’s about acknowledging the history of this town,” Smokey said. “We have an opportunity to come together and work together to put an end to this together.”
It’s not clear if the town or county plan to challenge the new ban.