By Thomas Fuller
The New York Times
When a New York Times article last year detailed the involvement of the founder of UC Hastings College of the Law in state-sponsored massacres of Indigenous Californians, an outcry ensued. The law school’s board swiftly and unanimously agreed to change the school’s name.
But in the months since, university administrators have learned that deleting a tainted name might be the easy part. Choosing a new one is proving to be a fraught and costly process.
There is disagreement on what the new name should be, a debate that encapsulates an era in America in which we are reassessing our history, reanalyzing our heroes and trying to agree on who should be honored by institutions — and who should not.
A small but vocal group of people at Hastings believe that the university should keep its name after all.
“It seems like it would make more sense to use the money for things that would be more beneficial,” said Marsha N. Cohen, a professor at the law school who has also worked in the admissions office.
(A spokeswoman for the law school, Liz Moore, says it will cost at least $2 million to $3 million to change the name on building signage, email and web addresses, stationery, brochures and more.)
The law school’s board has proposed that the new name should be the University of California, College of the Law, San Francisco, according to David Faigman, the chancellor and dean.
“San Francisco is a world-class city, well known for dynamism and innovation — qualities that distinguish our law school as well,” Faigman said in a written answer to questions. “The San Francisco name also conveys the useful information of where we are located and aligns us with the naming convention of every other campus of the University of California.”
A group of Yuki tribe members is pushing back on that name. It was Yuki Indians who were massacred in campaigns in the mid-1800s that historians say were bankrolled and masterminded by Serranus Hastings, the founder of the law school.
Some members of the Yuki tribe are urging Hastings to rename the school with a name from the Yuki language. Steve Brown, the president of the Round Valley Yuki Committee, proposes “Powen’om,” which means “one people.”
“I want payback,” Brown said. “You can call it reparations or social justice or whatever. I want our name on there.”
Brown and other Yuki tribe members say the massacres did much more than decimate the Yuki populations. The area now suffers poverty and drug abuse.
“Our futures were stolen,” he said.
The massacres occurred in the Round and Eden valleys in Mendocino County. Today the Round Valley Indian Tribes are an amalgam of seven distinct tribes, including the Yuki, that was created after a coerced 19th-century relocation by the U.S. government.
This creates a challenge for the law school as it seeks to change the name and put together a package of reparations and restorative justice initiatives. Who should be the school’s interlocutors? The Yuki or the legally recognized Round Valley Indian Tribe? The university has decided to deal with both.
The leadership of the Round Valley Indian Tribes met Wednesday to discuss the name but did not reach a decision, Brown said.
Ultimately it is up to the California Legislature to choose the name. The law school says a lobbying firm that it retains in Sacramento will be involved in pushing through the legislation.
James C. Ramos, the only Native American member of the Legislature, says it is important for all sides — the law school, the Yuki and the broader Round Valley leadership — to sit down and discuss the new name. He organized a hearing in Sacramento this month where the issue was discussed.
For Ramos, the issue has a personal resonance. His great-great-grandfather Pakuma survived a deadly 1867 campaign by a settler militia in the mountains of San Bernardino.
“Our clan dwindled down to less than 30 members,” Ramos said.
Ramos hopes the renaming raises awareness in California of the legacy of massacres and displacement suffered by Indigenous Californians.
“This is not just about Hastings changing their name,” Ramos said. “This is about the state of California coming to terms with a horrid past and history of atrocities inflicted upon California Indian people.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.