The California State Park and Recreation Commission just renamed Patrick’s Point State Park in Humboldt County to “Sue-meg State Park” following calls by local and tribal leaders to change name citing it’s racist past.
Before settlement in the area in the mid 1800’s, the area had been known by the Yurok tribe as Sue-meg (pronounced as “soo-may”) after their name of the nearby rock formation within the current park, with the name roughly translating in Yurok as “habitually done” or “always done.” After settler fights with the natives, an Irish settler named Patrick Beegan laid claim to the area in 1851. Following his establishment of a ranch, Beegan reportedly killed natives without reason nor in self-defense, including children. Beegan fled the area shortly afterwards, but his name stuck in the area.
By 1930 the state of California acquired the area, with establishment of the park occurring in 1963. Despite keeping the name of Patrick’s Point, natives still in the area continued to call the area by it’s original name, with a traditional village, Sumeg, opening nearby in 1990. Historic renames involving Native Americans, as well as other controversial names, saw an upswing in the 2010’s, with many renewed calls in favor of renaming Patrick’s Point State Park following the trend.
Following the George Floyd protests in 2020, these efforts gained even further support, with larger changes, such as the name change of the Squaw Valley Ski Resort and the possible name change of the city of Fort Bragg, happening in the past year.
This led to a California State Park and Recreation Commission vote last week unanimously approving the name change to the original Yurok Sue-meg State Park, with the name officially being changed over the weekend.
“This genuinely historic decision represents a turning point in the relationship between tribes and the state,” said Yurok Tribal Joseph L. James. “I’m so glad that Sue-meg will now be referred to by its correct name. Though justice could not be served for [those] who died, we can move in the right direction. A healing. And a good healing today is taking direct action to rename the park.”
The name change, in addition to being praised by the Parks Commission and Native tribes, has been defended by historians against proponents who wanted to keep the original change.
“There was some opposition to the change, with many citing ‘history’ as the main reason,” explained Chris Jeffords, a historian in Memphis who has worked with many tribes to keep track of names changes in the United States, to the Globe on Monday. “And in some cases, the original name isn’t bad, so it’s harder to justify, especially places that were not originally tribal.”
“But here, it’s an original Yurok name that never really went away, mixed with the fact that the person the name was replaced by turned out to be an accused murderer. It doesn’t look good and doesn’t make sense to keep it on a social, historical, or even economic level, as the name could turn away visitors and tourism. Plus, like other previous changes, the old name will live on, giving the context of the name change.”
“It’s simply a return of the old name to stress the importance of the area to the native tribe and to replace a name steeped in controversy.”
The newly rechristened Sue-meg State Park, located 25 miles north of Eureka, is expected to resume tribal ceremonies soon following a few years hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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