Bay Area law school named after architect of Native American genocide in Mendocino County votes to change name

Yuki People and Serranus Hastings [Photo via WikiCommons]

The University of California-Hastings College of Law decided to change its name because of its namesake, Serranus C. Hastings, who ordered massacres of the Yuki people, an indigenous community in Mendocino County, in the 1850s.

On Wednesday, June 27, 2022, the board recommended removing Hastings and replacing it instead with “San Francisco” as UC College of the Law, San Francisco. The council’s recommendation must now be approved by both houses of the California State Legislature and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom to take effect in January 2023.

The stories of the massacre ordered by Hastings were reviewed by UC Hastings in 2020 and they confirmed his guilt in the genocide of the Yuki Indians. A New York Times article in November 2021 painted a vivid historical picture of the massacre and soon after the board committed to changing the name.

Over the next few months, name change efforts languished as staff, students and alumni were pushed back. California Assemblyman James Ramos, the first Native American Assemblyman in state history, is believed to be the author Assembly Bill of 1939 to force the hand of the university by removing Hastings from its name.

Wednesday’s board meeting was the culmination of that work, and they chose to name their institution San Francisco to recognize the city that “best embodies the College’s core identity.” Additionally, the use of the university’s location name was consistent with the naming conventions of the rest of the University of California system. Surveys of staff, students, community members and other stakeholder groups also indicated a strong preference for the name.

But, the descendants of those massacred by Hastings are unhappy with the new name. Leaders of the Round Valley Indian Tribe and a select contingent of its members of Yuki ancestry, called the Yuki Committee, have met with university leaders over the past two years to advocate for a name that honors the First Nations of California.

Instead, Nickole Whipple, a member of the Yuki committee, told us that choosing San Francisco demonstrated that the board “honored us, a tribe, the Yuki, and offended all Indians in the state. of California by renaming San Francisco. ”

San Francisco is not simply a geographical reference for the native peoples of California, Whipple said, “In Indian country, the name glorifies the mission era that is offensive to all natives, representing the history of the westward expansion, of the policy of peace and of the epochs of assimilation and attribution.”

At Whipple’s Point, Mission San Francisco de Asís de San Francisco, a Spanish mission founded in 1776, has approximately 6,000 Native American graves buried in its vicinity. They died of disease and the cultural disruption typical of the mission system.

The Yuki Committee proposed that the university adopt a Yuki language word as its name: Powen’om. A word of Indigenous origin that means “one people” would demonstrate the university’s commitment to Indigenous peoples.

UC Hastings offered several reasons why they did not choose Powen’om as their new name. In a press release, the university described the Round Valley Indian Tribal Council as supporting Hastings’ removal, but was ambivalent about replacing him. They went on to state that the descendants of the Yuki people would have a “range of views”, including not changing their name or using a geographic name.

Pitching the values ​​of one tribe against another, the university also said that members of the Ramaytush Ohlone, the tribe native to the land where the college is located, said that “to name an institution in their ancestral land in the language from another tribe would cause great offense”. .”

The Board of Trustees was directed by the Assembly Bill of 1939 “to submit a recommendation to the Legislative Assembly only after consultation with representatives of the Round Valley Indian Tribes and its delegates from the Yuki Indian Committee”. Citing the views of other tribes to justify their refusal of a Yuki-language name could very well put them at odds with the very legislation that directed their efforts.

Whipple told us that since Powen’om was proposed, university officials were against it, “because they thought it was offensive to their students, former students, and future students who might struggle to speak what they called a foreign language that was taken from the Yuki people by their namesake.

Serranus C. Hastings’ historical account published in The New York Times and subsequent media coverage are disturbing. Hastings, an important figure in the formation of California. He was Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court in 1949 and owned significant land holdings in northeast Mendocino County, including most of what is now called Eden Valley.

Hastings managed his lands remotely, hiring a man named HL Hall as his boots in the field. Hall hired members of the Yuki tribe as laborers and allegedly abused them and denied them their wages.

Hastings reportedly learned that a group of Yuki had slaughtered his favorite horse for meat. In response, Hastings vowed to rid Mendocino County of its natives. On orders from Hastings, Hall and a band of men would kill any natives they encountered. There are records that they poisoned a community’s food supply with strychnine.

Hall reportedly said in an 1860 disposition that “infants were put out of their misery and a 10-year-old girl was killed for stubbornness.”

In 1859, Hastings exercised the privilege of his political position and convinced California Governor John B. Weller to approve the formation of a militia that would continue to eradicate the natives. The Eel River Rangers were trained and systematically killed approximately 1,000 Mendocino County natives that year.

Marsha Cohen, a law professor at UC Hastings, has been an outspoken dissenting voice since the renaming process began. His initial objections were mainly of a financial nature. With the cost of the name change estimated at $2-3 million, Cohen explained why not invest those funds in services that would more directly serve the Yuki people instead.

After The New York Times’ coverage of Hastings and his story, Cohen began to explore alternative perspectives on Hastings’ role in the genocides. Cohen’s research found that the historical record offers “no compelling evidence that he knew of militia atrocities” or of his ranch manager’s “propensity for wanton killing in the protection livestock”. In fact, Cohen pointed to Hastings as the dissenting voice in a California Supreme Court decision centered on a Native American’s ability to own property. Hastings alone would argue for the humanity of man.

Professor Cohen in no way denied the atrocities committed against the native people of California, “Obviously, a lot of evil was perpetrated against the natives, including the Yuki, during those years. But, she argued, these public bickering over Hastings gave Governor Gavin Newsom Truth and Healing Counseling a product born out of their mission to reconcile historical crimes and modern sentiments. Hastings fell to the sword for California’s original sins, Cohen claims.

In a way, Nickole Whipple and other Yuki’s issues with the San Francisco name touch on a similar theme to Professor Cohen’s. The history of the native tribes of California is not only in the hands of Hastings, but has been crushed by multiple waves of colonial powers vying for power and dominance.

For Nickole Whipple and the other members of the Yuki Committee, their efforts are not over. Hastings’ name may be gone, but, they say, the law school board chose a name that evokes the colonial genocide that killed thousands of natives and contributed to the loss of their ways. of life. brought by the Spanish missionary system.

On August 1, 2022, the California State Senate will consider the Board’s recommendation and confirm or decline its selection. Whipple and others will be there to make sure their voices are heard.


Nancy I. Romero