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Minden’s controversial siren to be permanently shut off if a proposed bill passes

A white, vertical tower with a red siren on top. A blue sky fills the background of the composition.
Paul Boger
KUNR Public Radio
The siren that sounds every day at noon and 5 p.m. in Minden, Nev., is associated with the town’s discriminatory history excluding Native Americans. It is located behind the town’s fire department and across the street from Minden Park.

A siren has been sounding in Minden for more than 100 years, reminding the Native American community of a traumatic past. Now, lawmakers are pushing to silence the siren one more time.

Lawmakers are discussing a bill that would prohibit Nevada counties, cities and unincorporated towns from sounding sirens, bells or alarms for certain purposes.

Senate Bill 391 targets a controversial siren in Minden that has been going off every day for a century, which is connected to the town’s history as a “sundown town.”

Until 1974, anyone who wasn’t white had to leave Minden and neighboring Gardnerville at the end of every day, or face dire consequences. A 1917 county ordinance mandated that Native Americans needed to be out of the town’s limits by 6:30 p.m.

Local authorities sound the siren every day at noon and 5 p.m. Some Minden residents insist it’s meant to pay tribute to the volunteer fire department and first responders.

In 2021, Governor Steve Sisolak signed Assembly Bill 88 to ban sundown sirens in Nevada. But shortly after it passed, tribal leaders and the town of Minden announced an agreement to change the time of the siren from 6 to 5 p.m.

According to Washoe Tribal Vice Chairman Patrick Burtt, tribal elders have shared stories about how Native Americans were punished if they didn’t obey the ordinance through the years.

“Many acts of violence occurred,” Burtt said. “Several Washoe men were beaten and had their braids cut off. Many Washoe women were beaten and raped.”

Burtt said the siren was used to warn tribal members it was time to get out – and the fact that it can still be heard reminds his community of that painful history.

Now, legislators are pushing to silence the siren one more time.

On April 5, Senator Dallas Harris presented a bill to end it once and for all.

“Didn’t we do this already?,” Harris said. “That’s what I thought to myself until I heard on the news when a certain former president came to visit Minden. They were talking about how we still have a sundown siren. How are they still ringing that thing?.”

If the bill passes, Nevada counties, cities and unincorporated towns won’t be able to sound a siren, bell or alarm for a purpose other than alerting an emergency, occasional testing or to celebrate legal holidays.

If they do, counties could be fined up to $50,000 for every violation – meaning Minden would have to pay $100,000 per day for the two times the siren sounds.

Maria joined KUNR Public Radio in December 2022 as a staff reporter. She is interested in stories about underserved communities, immigration, arts and culture, entertainment, education and health.
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