Photo Courtesy of Yurok Cultural Division
Names are important. The names we give to places are particularly powerful in how they root that place within a set of ideas and identifiers that lead people to think about the place in certain ways. Sue-meg State Park may sound like a new or unfamiliar place to some readers, but it is a place steeped in history that until very recently went by a very different name. The timing of this name change is particularly poignant as it occurred just a few days before this year’s Indigenous Peoples Day when Klamath River communities are paying special attention to Indigenous histories and contemporary experiences.
Sue-meg village was long inhabited by the Yurok Tribe. Sue-meg sits within the Yurok traditional territorial homeland that has been inhabited by the Tribe since time immemorial. Their territory straddles the mouth of the Klamath River and stretches upriver to the confluence of the Trinity and Klamath Rivers. The village is situated within the bounds of a California State Park that until a few days ago was officially referred to as Patrick’s Point State Park. While Patrick’s Point may seem like a benign name to some, the reality is that the park’s namesake, a Patrick Beegan left a legacy of violence towards Native Californians and fled the area after killing a Yurok child.
For the Yurok Tribe the change represents steps towards a more inclusive and respectful future wherein their history is not overlooked, and their language is used to identify places within their territory not just by Tribal members but also by visitors and area residents not directly related to the Tribe. Sue-meg village had been more recently reestablished as a village space for ceremonial purposes in the past decades, but the Patrick’s Point name continued to taint the relationship between the Tribe and the sacred space they sought to reclaim in the century and a half following the large-scale invasion of settlers during the California Gold Rush.
The names of things have power beyond the ways we identify various places. Reclaiming the name of Sue-meg Village is an important step for the Yurok Tribe and hopefully indicates a political momentum that other tribes can utilize to their advantage. To those who organized and campaigned to make Sue-meg State Park a reality: congratulations on your success and thank you for your contribution to efforts towards reconciliation and inclusive histories.