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Yuki tribal members: UC Hastings proceeding on name change ‘without our voices’

Serranus Hastings ordered the slaughter of hundreds of Yuki, but members of the modern-day tribe say they were left out of the reconciliation process.|

Yuki tribe viewed as “enemy tribe” and minorities on own land

The Yuki tribe, who had originally lived in and around Round Valley, was first documented at 20,000 people in 1854.

They now occupy the Round Valley Indian Reservation, a federally recognized Indian reservation that covers 23,212 acres primarily in northern Mendocino County, including 405 acres in the town of Covelo. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, 454 people live on the reservation.

Before the settlers came, Yuki people traditionally fished for salmon in the Eel River, hunted deer and gathered acorns. Most traditions, language and art forms from their original way of life have been lost. However, many still live in the Round Valley with five other tribes that were rounded up and forced into the valley in the 1860s.

By 1846 there were about 260 Yuki left, wrote UCLA professor and leading historian Ben Madley in his book “an American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe.”

“The whites have engaged in a relentless war of extermination against the Yuk(i)s,” U.S. Army Major Edward Johnson said, according to Madley’s book. “They have ruthlessly massacred men, women and children.”

But without the legal capacity to protect Indians, arrest whites, or confront them for their murder, no one in the Army could do anything even if they wanted to.

Meanwhile ranchers, vigilantes and wealthy landowners were drawing up a petition, requesting militia support against the Yuki tribe. The petition asked for reimbursement funds. Serranus Hastings, former California Supreme Court justice and wealthy ranch owner, would later give the petition to California Gov. John B. Weller.

After the killings were made public in the state’s newspapers, the governor conducted an investigation. Johnson reported to Weller that the Yuki Indians have not been at war with the whites and in fact, the whites had engaged in a “relentless war of extermination.”

“(State legislators) knew this was a very dark, unusual operation,” Madley said in an interview with The Press Democrat. “Even in the context, this was a particularly bloody and public mass killing campaign.”

Unsatisfied with this answer, Weller commissioned state militia captain F.F. Flint to conduct a second investigation. Flint recommended organizing volunteers to fight the Yuki.

A stockman, Walter Jarboe, then led a group of white settlers known as the “Eel River Rangers” who slaughtered more than 400 Indians and took 600 prisoners, according to the Daily Alta California, a 19th-century San Francisco newspaper. They billed California $11,143.

H.L. Hall, who managed Hastings’s ranches neighboring the reservation said: “All the squaw were killed because they refused to go further.” And the “infants were put out of their misery.” A 10-year-old girl was killed for “stubbornness.”

After Hastings massacres in the 1860s, tribes from all over the region were forced to march into the valley where the Yuki resided. This spread withering resources thin, such as elk, salmon and farmland and pushed rival tribes together, according to Madley.

“Because of the massacres, our population was decimated so much that our tribe became the minority in our own land,” said Deb Hutt, a Yuki tribal member.

– Alana Minkler

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.”

Edwina Lincoln, a member of the Yuki tribe in Covelo, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)
Edwina Lincoln, a member of the Yuki tribe in Covelo, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)

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?”

From left, Otaka Redhawk, Eliste Reeves and Edwina Lincoln, all members of the Yuki tribe in Covelo on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)
From left, Otaka Redhawk, Eliste Reeves and Edwina Lincoln, all members of the Yuki tribe in Covelo on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)

Place of beauty and despair

State Route 162 winds east from Highway 101 for almost 30 miles through a dense forest of oaks and firs before coming to a bridge with a sign that says “Red Run.” It refers to the blood of Yuki warriors, women, children and infants who were slaughtered.

A little farther, the highway enters a lush, sunny valley and the town of Covelo, where the Round Valley Indian Tribes have their headquarters.

It is a community that faces some of the worst rates of violent crime in Northern California at about 17.16 crimes per 1,000 residents in a population of 1,255 residents.

Unemployment is high, 7.1%, and it has one of the highest rates of missing and murdered Indigenous people in the state.

Just beyond a neglected rock sign marking the entrance to the reservation, there is the skeleton of an abandoned building, a corner bar notorious for shootings and fights, a small park, a library, a school with a few rooms and a crowded neighborhood full of small houses and trailers.

Covelo seen from Inspiration Point in the Round Valley on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)
Covelo seen from Inspiration Point in the Round Valley on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)

That neighborhood is where Reeves, a Yuki elder, lives.

Her home burned down, and she can’t afford a new one, so now she lives in her son’s trailer, which is badly in need of repairs.

She doesn’t light fires or plug in the heater because faulty wiring in the walls could cause it to “go up in flames like a tinderbox,” she said.

Reeves has long been one of the keepers of the Yuki legacy, but when she heard about the Hastings name change, she was confused. No one had told her about it. She had to wait weeks to ask questions about it at a Round Valley tribal meeting.

That stung because she knew that the Round Valley tribal council, which has no Yuki members, had been negotiating with the law school for years.

In fact, in September she sent a letter to the tribal council acknowledging the reconciliation work but warning that the “deep wounds of historical trauma will not heal,” unless the Yuki people are involved in the process.

“I want to be a part of it moving forward because I want to have a voice,” Reeves said. “I said to them, ‘Look where I live? Suddenly I’m very important to you, but you could never knock on my door and see what this old lady is doing in this 20-year condemned trailer.’”

A grand gesture

The Hastings controversy has been simmering since 2017.

John Briscoe, an environmental attorney based in San Francisco and a former adjunct professor at UC Hastings, wrote an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle revealing Hastings’ role in the genocide of Indigenous peoples.

“That was really the first time that I really understood, beyond some echoes,” said David Faigman, who has been dean and chancellor at the law school for four years and has served on the faculty since 1997.

“When you talked about Serranus Hastings at the school, it was pretty simplistic. He was the first chief justice. He had been the chief justice in Iowa. He was a very wealthy landowner and that was pretty much it.”

Faigman hired historian Brendan Lindsey to do an in-depth examination of Hastings. In August 2017, Faigman organized a committee of faculty, staff, alumni and students called the Hastings Legacy Review Committee, which began building a relationship with the Round Valley Indian Tribal Council and exchanging ideas.

In December 2020, he formed the Restorative Justice Advisory Board to review their findings. The board recommended several initiatives such as providing pro bono legal services to tribal members and other California Indigenous communities, creating scholarships, and funding professional cultural restoration to help preserve language, art forms and other traditions.

Faigman said he never intended for the Yuki to be shut out of the process, but he had to negotiate with the Round Valley Indian Tribal Council because, unlike the individual tribes, they hold the power of federal recognition.

Lincoln and other Yuki members say, however, that they believe Faigman didn’t initially grasp the political complexities of the Round Valley tribes, and that he was slow to understand the cultural values of the Yuki people, particularly the importance of involving their elders.

The Restorative Justice Advisory Board eventually came to realize that although they had dealt with the Round Valley tribal council, they had not spoken with any descendants of the Yuki tribe.

The board and the tribal council formed a Yuki Committee and invited members of the tribe to participate.

Eventually the college agreed to create a memorial to the Yuki in the sleek lobby of UC Hastings building, which looks more like a hotel lobby than a school and sits just a few blocks from San Francisco’s civic center and is a four-hour drive from Round Valley.

The memorial is a small consolation.

It’s “a continuation of the erasure mistreatment we have faced since the 1800s,” said Deb Hutt, a Yuki woman who is on the committee and serves as an unofficial leader.

Reeves, who has lived on the reservation for most of her life, said the council is still trying to minimize communication with the Yuki people, and the college is turning a blind eye.

“Our council is not backing us,” Reeves said. “They are for themselves.”

The Press Democrat made extensive and repeated requests for comment from Round Valley Indian Tribal Council members over several weeks. Nearly three dozen messages left with the tribal office and on individual members’ cellphones were not returned. A similar number of emails received no reply.

When Vice President Lewis “Bill” Whipple responded to a Nov. 19 text message on Dec. 1, he said, “I don’t feel comfortable making a statement,” and deferred to President James Russ. Russ agreed to speak with a reporter but never responded to follow-up phone calls and text messages.

Yuki members say they have similar issues with the council.

April McGill, a Yuki woman who is the director of the American Indian Cultural Center San Francisco, said she spoke with Russ in November, and he agreed to try to include the Yuki Committee in future meetings.

A few weeks later, McGill was scrolling on Facebook and saw that Assembly member James C. Ramos, D-Highland, had posted about a meeting with the tribal council and UC Hastings, without the Yuki Committee.

Here are some photos of my meeting on Friday with Round Valley Indian tribal Council representatives and leaders from UC...

Posted by Assemblymember James C. Ramos on Monday, December 13, 2021

“They’re just as bad as Hastings,” McGill said. “How are you going to oppress your own people and put us through all the oppression that Hastings law school represents?”

Reeves said she was not surprised by the stealth meetings and lack of communication.

“The tribal council never wants to work with us because they never want the Yuki people to realize the power that they have,” Reeves said. “This is our valley, and they have long been threatened by that.”

When outside opportunities come along for the Yuki, such as UC Hastings’ restorative justice efforts, “(the council will) hide it,” Reeves said. “They’ll sit on it. They won’t bring it out and say, ‘This is what can help the Yuki people.’”

Many Yuki tribal members acknowledge that the council has pressing issues, such as violent crime, missing and murdered Indigenous people, substance abuse, unemployment and educational disparities.

But the council’s secrecy has allowed the law school to “(get) off cheap,” said Jobe Thompson, 42, a Yuki man who is the athletic director of Round Valley High School.

Thompson said he tried to join in on a council meeting about the UC Hastings negotiations in late November, but he was denied and told it was an executive meeting for council members only.

Name change conversation

Things came to a head in October, when a New York Times article questioned why the law school still bore Hastings’ name.

Jo Carillo, director of the Indigenous Law Center at Hastings and a member of the Restorative Justice Advisory Board, said the article “fast-tracked” their plans and put the name change ahead of other possibilities they’d been exploring with the tribes.

“I think it’s very important to go about this in a decolonial process, and part of that is sitting down with people, meeting them, getting to know them and that takes time,” Carillo said.

Faigman said that a number of restorative measures were considered, but “a name change was never off the table.”

“What we found is that every time those conversations came up about the name, that's all you talked about. You didn’t talk about other opportunities, commemorative space or telling stories, Faigman said.

“And also, what we learned was that the tribal members really didn't feel strongly about the name.”

Some Yuki members dispute that characterization.

“We got totally denied,” Thompson said.

“(Faigman) told me a name change wouldn’t mean anything,” Thompson said. “A name change might not mean anything to you, but it would mean everything to us.”

“Imagine growing up in a school named UC Hitler?” he said he asked Faigman. “How is this any different?”

Growing up defeated

Many Yuki feel they’ve grown up in a culture of defeat.

Being known as “the enemy” and being treated that way has been handed down through the generations, said Deb Hutt and Mona Oandason, two sisters on the Yuki Committee.

“There’s a lot of them that don’t want to be Yuki because they were treated so bad,” Reeves said.

Because of intermarriage, there are no full-blooded Yuki people anymore. Many people of Yuki heritage identify with their other tribes and keep their lineage a secret for fear of being ostracized, Lincoln said.

Not Reeves, whose grandfather was the last known full-blooded Yuki man.

“I remember going to school and just being proud of myself, and proud of my color, and who I was,” she said.

Some tribal members object to being called Yuki and prefer Po’e’nom, which means “the people” in their own language. Others prefer U’k’om’nom, which means “the people of the valley.”

But Redhawk, Reeves, Lincoln and others prefer Yuki because they grew up with that identity.

“I never saw us doing anything where we should have been feared,” said Reeves. “We were always soft-spoken and pretty mellow. But it did nothing for us. And that's why we don’t come together now.”

Edwina Lincoln, a member of the Yuki tribe, reads a plaque at Inspiration Point in Covelo that begins “The first inhabitants of Round Valley were the Yuki who resided here for thousands of years in harmony with their natural surroundings.” Photo taken on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)
Edwina Lincoln, a member of the Yuki tribe, reads a plaque at Inspiration Point in Covelo that begins “The first inhabitants of Round Valley were the Yuki who resided here for thousands of years in harmony with their natural surroundings.” Photo taken on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)

Looking for hope

Thompson, whose family came from Eden Valley where Serranus Hastings built his empire, said growing up, he saw his own family experience “total displacement, total loss of culture.”

He laments that his son will never get to hear a Yuki song in the valley. Their language, songs and dances have been almost completely erased.

“How do we reteach our culture that was taken away?” he asked.

“Holistically, it impacted us all,” Thompson said. “There’s this sentiment of never being enough, never being able to help enough.”

There’s so much work that needs to be done for the tribes in Round Valley, stemming from the genocide, that “it feels almost hopeless,” he said.

“We need a voice in the conversation.

“We are just regular folks, human beings claiming who we are, and all we want is the necessities to live,” Lincoln said. “We want a good home. We want to be able to walk in our home and flip the switch, or start the fire and it’s not going to burn down. We want to be able to have a ramp for our elders.”

“So where is Hastings?” asked Lincoln. “If they’re a law firm of a law college, how come they’re not helping us as Yuki people?”

The Yuki are trying to heal from the generational trauma, Redhawk said. And talking about what Hastings did and its impact today “it’s hard,” she said.

But life is never going to be the same as before those settlers came across the valley unless meaningful change is made, “because the struggles will still be here,” Lincoln said.

“We can just remind our generations and generations to come how beautiful this life is and the freedom we have now,” she said.

“Let’s start from the beginning and let’s start the healing process,” said Lincoln.

As the three women looked across their reservation, they reflected on the violence and greed that almost wiped out their people, their culture and their will to go on.

“It was a beautiful place,” Lincoln said. “And it still is a beautiful place.”

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

Yuki tribe viewed as “enemy tribe” and minorities on own land

The Yuki tribe, who had originally lived in and around Round Valley, was first documented at 20,000 people in 1854.

They now occupy the Round Valley Indian Reservation, a federally recognized Indian reservation that covers 23,212 acres primarily in northern Mendocino County, including 405 acres in the town of Covelo. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, 454 people live on the reservation.

Before the settlers came, Yuki people traditionally fished for salmon in the Eel River, hunted deer and gathered acorns. Most traditions, language and art forms from their original way of life have been lost. However, many still live in the Round Valley with five other tribes that were rounded up and forced into the valley in the 1860s.

By 1846 there were about 260 Yuki left, wrote UCLA professor and leading historian Ben Madley in his book “an American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe.”

“The whites have engaged in a relentless war of extermination against the Yuk(i)s,” U.S. Army Major Edward Johnson said, according to Madley’s book. “They have ruthlessly massacred men, women and children.”

But without the legal capacity to protect Indians, arrest whites, or confront them for their murder, no one in the Army could do anything even if they wanted to.

Meanwhile ranchers, vigilantes and wealthy landowners were drawing up a petition, requesting militia support against the Yuki tribe. The petition asked for reimbursement funds. Serranus Hastings, former California Supreme Court justice and wealthy ranch owner, would later give the petition to California Gov. John B. Weller.

After the killings were made public in the state’s newspapers, the governor conducted an investigation. Johnson reported to Weller that the Yuki Indians have not been at war with the whites and in fact, the whites had engaged in a “relentless war of extermination.”

“(State legislators) knew this was a very dark, unusual operation,” Madley said in an interview with The Press Democrat. “Even in the context, this was a particularly bloody and public mass killing campaign.”

Unsatisfied with this answer, Weller commissioned state militia captain F.F. Flint to conduct a second investigation. Flint recommended organizing volunteers to fight the Yuki.

A stockman, Walter Jarboe, then led a group of white settlers known as the “Eel River Rangers” who slaughtered more than 400 Indians and took 600 prisoners, according to the Daily Alta California, a 19th-century San Francisco newspaper. They billed California $11,143.

H.L. Hall, who managed Hastings’s ranches neighboring the reservation said: “All the squaw were killed because they refused to go further.” And the “infants were put out of their misery.” A 10-year-old girl was killed for “stubbornness.”

After Hastings massacres in the 1860s, tribes from all over the region were forced to march into the valley where the Yuki resided. This spread withering resources thin, such as elk, salmon and farmland and pushed rival tribes together, according to Madley.

“Because of the massacres, our population was decimated so much that our tribe became the minority in our own land,” said Deb Hutt, a Yuki tribal member.

– Alana Minkler

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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