Yuki tribal members: UC Hastings proceeding on name change ‘without our voices’
When UC Hastings College of the Law officials announced their decision to rid its namesake from its name in October, it was billed as a grand gesture of reconciliation.
Hundreds of Native Americans were slaughtered and forced from their land under orders from Serranus Hastings, a wealthy rancher and California’s first state Supreme Court justice.
Now their descendants would, at long last, receive justice.
But for members of the tribe that suffered the most under Hastings’ brutal hand, the law school’s gesture not only missed the point, it was an insult.
That tribe is known as the Yuki. It is a name that was hung on them by another tribe, and it means “enemy” in the other tribe’s language.
It is just one of a string of indignities and injustices the Yuki have faced since white settlers came to their valley in northern Mendocino County in 1854.
The latest slight came when they felt shut out of the first stages of the law school’s reconciliation process, which has been taking place since 2017 against the backdrop of a complex maze of intertribal relationships.
Those relationships date to the 1860s, when tribes from across the region were rounded up and forced onto Yuki land, making them minorities in their own homeland.
The tribes were eventually lumped into the Round Valley Indian Tribes, a federally recognized confederation that includes the Yuki as members but does not give them an individual voice as a tribe.
Now, several years into the reconciliation process, university officials have made efforts to include the Yuki, but many members say they still are being left out by both the school and the larger tribal organization.
And while the Yuki support the proposed name change to UC San Francisco College of the Law, what they really want is cultural restoration, education opportunities for their youth, political representation and recognition that they were there first, that their ancestors were the ones who died at the hands of the state.
The Hastings controversy comes as the nation grapples with recognition and reconciliation for the harm committed against Native American tribes during 400 years of colonization.
Across the country, landmarks and businesses have been renamed. In October, the former Squaw Valley ski resort was renamed Palisades Tahoe to eliminate a slur used against Native women. Professional sports teams in Washington, D.C., and Cleveland have recently bowed to years of pressure to change their names, and Land O’Lakes butter removed the long-standing image of an Indian maiden from its packaging.
Officials at Hastings, a prestigious San Francisco law school that includes Vice President Kamala Harris as an alumna, sought their own reckoning with their name.
But in their quest to right historic wrongs, they talked to the wrong tribes, and missed the point, Yuki members say.
“We are real,” said Edwina Lincoln, a Yuki woman. “We are here. We want to be recognized.”
Beginnings of a plan
The Yuki’s historic homeland, the Round Valley, is about a two-hour drive from Northern California’s Wine Country.
Looking out across a bluff called Inspiration Point, three Yuki women, Lincoln, 65, Eliste Reeves, 71, and Otaka Redhawk, 42, reflected on the place that started it all ― the spot where white settlers first gazed in awe at their land.
“It was like Eden to them,” said Lincoln.
In 1854, just a few years after gold was discovered in California, six settlers from Missouri came across the lush valley and marveled at the green meadows and stately oaks.
And when they discovered the people who lived there, their first instinct was to chase them down on horseback and open fire.
About 40 Yuki died in that first encounter. Over the years, hundreds more would die, others would be enslaved, and their land would become part of the grim legacy of colonization.
“We were no power against guns,” Reeves said. “We died. But we dared to stand up for ourselves.”
Hastings, who was already a judge at the time, established a ranch in Round Valley and viewed the Yuki as a threat. In 1859 and 1860, he hired men to kill as many Yuki as they could, vowing that if the state of California wouldn’t pay them for their efforts, he would reimburse them from his own pocket.
The state paid, according to an account in the book “An American Genocide,” written by historian Benjamin Madley.
The price of 600 Yuki lives was $11,143.
“Hastings was the mastermind of the genocide,” Madley said in an interview with The Press Democrat. “Now, the question we have to ask ourselves is, “who do we want to celebrate? Do we want to be honoring a man who did these things?”
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