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Competing bills would change UC Hastings’ name, only one gives Yuki tribal members a say

Twin bills have been introduced in the state legislature, each promising to strike the name of founder Serranus Hastings from the UC Hastings College of Law.|

Brief history of Round Valley massacres

The Yuki were the first ones to reside in the Round Valley before settlers and militiamen hired by the state, massacred, enslaved and rounded up the tribe and five other tribes into what now makes up the Round Valley Tribes.

Serranus C. Hastings, a wealthy landowner and former Superior Court Justice, founded the school in 1878 and invested $100,000 for its creation.

Less than a decade prior, he had ordered a group of white settlers known as the “Eel River Rangers” to exterminate the Yuki people, according to historian Benjamin Madley.

They slaughtered more than 400 and took 600 prisoners, according to the Daily Alta California, a 19th-century San Francisco newspaper. And they billed California $11,143.

Competing bills in the state legislature promise to strike the name of Serranus Hastings from the UC Hastings College of the Law and solidify other forms of reconciliation for the Round Valley Indian Tribes in Mendocino County.

Both bills seek to address the role the San Francisco college’s founder played in the genocide of Yuki Indians, the original inhabitants of Round Valley and whose ancestors were killed in a massacre spearheaded by Hastings.

The Assembly bill commits to tribal cooperation and a name change with input from the afflicted tribe ― the Yuki people ― the Senate bill simply strips out the Hastings name making it “College of the Law.”

The bills come after four years of discussions between the college and the Round Valley Tribal Council, which is made up of six tribes including the Yuki.

The Assembly bill, AB-1936, introduced by Assembly members James C. Ramos, D-Highland and Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, and state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would compel cooperation among the college, Yuki tribal members and the Round Valley Tribal Council to decide on the name.

It would also address an official apology from the college and the Hastings family, and other forms of restorative justice.

Ramos said reporting by The Press Democrat in January about how the Yuki were sidelined and overlooked in the reckoning with Hastings’ legacy compelled him to reach out to Yuki tribal members to craft legislation that would amplify their voices.

“It's time that the California Indian people's voices are at the table to discuss and attest to the historical trauma that has been inflicted upon the California people,” Ramos said.

The competing Senate bill envisions a much different process. It requires no consultation with Yuki tribal members and details none of the restitution outlined in Ramos’ Assembly bill — a conflict called out by the state’s Legislative Council, a nonpartisan public agency.

The Senate bill is authored by Sen. Tom Umberg, D—Santa Ana, a UC Hastings graduate, who says the college’s future name is critical to recruitment and to its reputation. He stopped short of saying in a recent interview the tribe’s suggestions have not been satisfactory.

Simply removing Hastings from the name is “appropriate” considering the atrocities he committed, Umberg said. He has also pledged to include amendments, such as educational programs and grants, pro bono legal services and establishing a museum in the Round Valley.

“We’re certainly happy to engage with the Round Valley Tribe and Yuki concerning issues about restorative justice,” Umberg said. “We will engage with them to make sure atrocities are recognized.”

The bill was heard in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday and advanced to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Ramos said, to his knowledge, the Senate bill authors have yet to meet with the tribe.

“It’s so disheartening to see a bill move forward in the state Legislature without their voice being part of that discussion,” he said.

Wiener is a co-author on both bills, and he spoke in Wednesday’s hearing in favor of the Senate bill affecting the future of the highly ranked law school in his district.

“We are all very proud of this amazing law school,” he said. The community “was also horrified” when they learned Hastings had committed genocide against Native Americans.

His name is “a scar on our city ― an embarrassment to our city,” Wiener said. “His name should have never been placed on the school from the outset.”

The college’s dean and chancellor, David Faigman, attended the Wednesday hearing and said the school and its board directors favor the Senate bill.

Round Valley Tribal President James Russ and Yuki Committee Spokesperson Mona Oandasan oppose that bill and favor the Assembly proposal. They did not get an opportunity to speak at the hearing until Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, asked Russ his opinion.

Russ said the tribal council was willing to talk and “move forward in a positive manner,” ultimately agreeing to work with the senators on including the restorative justice measures in the bill.

Giving the tribe a voice

Hastings, blocks away from San Francisco’s civic center, is among the top law schools in the country. Alumni include Vice President Kamala Harris and other powerful attorneys and lawmakers.

Yet Hastings’ legacy as a wealthy ranch owner and lawyer in the post-Gold Rush California has been reappraised in recent years as tribal voices and historians spotlighted his role in the state’s genocidal campaigns against Indigenous people.

The Yuki say they suffered directly as a result of his actions, having almost been exterminated and overlooked ever since as the original inhabitants of Round Valley, which is about a two-hour drive from Santa Rosa.

The college has come to them offering to help the Yuki people heal from generational trauma stemming from that history.

But those conversations started with the Round Valley Indian Tribal Council, which does not have Yuki representation.

A name change would cost the school as much as $3 million, including new signs, building seals, digital changeover and other expenses, said UC Hastings spokesperson Elizabeth Moore.

The proposed Assembly bill would rid the school of the Hastings name in favor of one jointly chosen by the school and the tribes. It is the first legislation of its kind to include cooperation between a college, a tribal council and the tribal members themselves, Ramos said.

“I hope people understand this bill and this conversation can't heal over 170 years of exclusion of a voice being engaged in this process but can serve for the start of the discussion to move forward,” he said.

“I am very taken with Ramos,” said Deb Hutt, the secretary of the Yuki Committee. “The fact that he recognizes us, he brought us to the table and that he's given us a voice.”

His bill includes findings from the college’s three-year examination of Hastings’ involvement in the massacre of Native Americans in California’s Eden and Round valleys.

The tribal partnership recognized by Ramos’s bill “hopefully serves as a model” for other schools across the country, Hutt said. It’s set for its first hearing, before the Committee on Higher Education, on April 26.

“Reparation for me is education for our people,” said Steve Brown, councilman of the Yuki Committee.

That’s why it’s so important for the Yuki Committee to make sure that legislation includes efforts to provide scholarships and opportunities, such as attending a college like UC Hastings.

“All the kids have to look forward to here is drugs, crime, extreme violence, prison. And that’s that,” he said.

Dilemma of future name

The committee has suggested naming it UC College of the Law Powe No’m, which means “one people” in the Yuki language.

But that proposal has not gained support from college officials.

Faigman, the college’s dean, was unavailable to answer questions, according to a college spokesperson, but provided a statement, “We are working with legislators and having continued conversations with Round Valley Indian Tribes Tribal Council and Yuki Committee. We are in an ongoing process.”

In a previous interview, Faigman said he favors the name UC San Francisco College of the Law based on its location and in congruity with other California schools.

The Yuki Committee points to the fact the city was named by Spanish missionaries, which enslaved, tortured and tried to convert California Indians to Catholicism, murdering many of those who didn’t, Brown and Hutt said.

“We feel its disrespectful for UC Hastings to come up with that name and suggest it doesn’t mean death and destruction of our native people,” Brown said.

The Round Valley Tribal Council could not be reached.

A new name, a new future

One Indigenous student, Brandon Hupka, who is Apache and in his third year at UC Hastings, said either way, he is glad the name will be changed.

“And an apology is important too” Hupka said. “It seems like the obvious right thing to do.”

Other students and alumni have demanded a name change as well, including four who attended the Senate hearing.

But others have defended the college founder and denied the genocide of Native people at the hands of the state.

Two prominent graduates of the school, retired Deputy Attorney General Kristian D. Whitten, and retired Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Rick Flier, both argued in Wednesday’s hearing against a name change.

They also said the Hastings name is synonymous with the school’s reputation.

McGuire, whose North Coast district takes in the Yuki homeland, denounced any who would want to keep Hastings’ name given his historically-proven murderous acts.

"It is embarrassing to hear folks come in and try to defend the name of this institution,“ he said. ”There’s nothing innocent about it.”

“The people of the Round Valley Indian tribes and the Yuki deserve better from this state,” McGuire said. “So do all the other Native American tribes in California and throughout the West.”

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8511 or alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @alana_minkler.

Brief history of Round Valley massacres

The Yuki were the first ones to reside in the Round Valley before settlers and militiamen hired by the state, massacred, enslaved and rounded up the tribe and five other tribes into what now makes up the Round Valley Tribes.

Serranus C. Hastings, a wealthy landowner and former Superior Court Justice, founded the school in 1878 and invested $100,000 for its creation.

Less than a decade prior, he had ordered a group of white settlers known as the “Eel River Rangers” to exterminate the Yuki people, according to historian Benjamin Madley.

They slaughtered more than 400 and took 600 prisoners, according to the Daily Alta California, a 19th-century San Francisco newspaper. And they billed California $11,143.

Alana Minkler

Breaking news & general assignment reporter, The Press Democrat

The world is filled with stories that inspire compassion, wonder, laughs and even tears. As a Press Democrat reporter covering breaking news, tribes and youth, it’s my goal to give others a voice to share these stories.

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