UC Hastings law school, tribal leaders discuss reparations

When the board of University of California Hastings College of the Law sat down Friday to discuss the next steps in changing the school’s name, California tribal leaders were at the table with them.

The meeting of the two groups was the latest development in a years-long process to redress violence committed against Indigenous Californians by the college’s founder, Serranus Clinton Hastings. The law school isn’t just getting a new name: Under a bill now pending in the Legislature, it would also make reparations to tribes affected by Hastings’ actions.

Making sure tribal leaders are part of the conversation about the name change sets the tone for how restorative justice should be carried out, said the bill’s author, Assemblymember James Ramos.

“We’re laying the groundwork and a model for others to be able to follow when we’re dealing with these types of historical trauma that has been inflicted upon California Indian people,” said Ramos, a Rancho Cucamonga Democrat and the first member of a California Native American tribe to serve in the Legislature.

The controversy dates back to 2017, when the university investigated how Hastings, the first chief justice of the California Supreme Court, promoted and funded massacres against the Yuki Tribe and other Indigenous Californians in the Eden Valley and Round Valley areas, located in what is now Mendocino County, in the 1850s. A subsequent New York Times article looked at the university’s findings and further galvanized public outcry, which led the law school’s board to approve a name change in November 2021.

“This has been a long road that has gotten us here, and the road will continue past this moment,” said the law school’s dean, David Faigman.

According to the university’s findings, Hastings funded hunting expeditions that led to the deaths of Yuki men, women and children; He profited off the seizure of land following the massacres; and funded the college with a $100,000 donation.

James Russ, president of the Round Valley Indian Tribes Council, said the name change isn’t about placing blame.

“What we’re saying is this is what happened to our tribes historically, and it needs to be acknowledged,” he said.

While board members have already decided to change the college’s name, the move remains contentious and there’s disagreement on what the college should be called. During Friday’s meeting, members of the public expressed support for the name change and urged board members to take into account suggestions from tribal leaders.

But a few disagreed with removing the Hastings name, including one descendant of Serranus Hastings. (The school’s Board of Directors includes another descendant of Hastings who has been supportive of the name change.)

one name proposed was “College of the Law: San Francisco.” Russ said tribal leaders pushed back against the proposal because of its connection to the Catholic mission system, which perpetuated violence against California Indigenous people.

“To us, the name San Francisco means the same kind of death and destruction as the name Hastings, just a different time and place,” said Steve Brown, councilman of the Yuki Committee. “We don’t feel restorative justice would be accomplished by substituting one name with a horrific history for another with an equally horrific history.”

Meanwhile, there’s also hope among some tribal representatives that the college will consider a Yuki name. The area where the massacres occurred was Yuki land and other tribes were forcibly relocated there. Today, the confederated tribes of the Round Valley Reservation include Yuki, Pit River, Pomo, Nomlacki, Concow and Wailacki.

Brown urged board members to choose a name that includes two words from the Yuki language: Powe Nom, which means “one people.”

If a Yuki name is chosen, “all who attend and speak of this institution will be participating in the restorative justice process whenever the law school is mentioned, by speaking and helping revitalize the Yuki language,” said Yuki Committee vice chair Mona Oandasan during an April hearing on the bill.

The name change can’t happen without legislation, since the school was founded under the state’s education code. Ramos’s bill, Assembly Bill 1936would authorize changing the college’s name with consultation from the Round Valley Indian Tribes and the Yuki Committee.

The bill also lays out restorative justice measures, including the creation of scholarships for Native students, installing memorials and developing ways for the school and its students to provide legal aid to tribes impacted by the atrocities.

The bill, approved on a 75-0 vote in the Assembly on May 26, is now before the Senate. At the same time, meetings between the tribes and the university leaders will continue over the next two months to come up with a new name. The goal is to have an official name added to the bill so lawmakers can vote on it before the legislative session ends in August.

UC Hastings is not the only college grappling with its history. Reassessing institutional roles in historical injustices has been a movement across higher education.

In 2020, UC Berkeley removed John Henry Boalt’s name from its law school building, after racist anti-Chinese writings from the attorney were discovered. In 2017, Georgetown University renamed two buildings named after school presidents who oversaw the sale of 272 enslaved people in 1838.

Efforts at these universities have also put an emphasis on restorative justice. Along with the renaming, Georgetown offered preferred admission to descendants of the 272 enslaved people. At Harvard University, after research revealed deep links between slavery and past school presidentsa university report recommended partnerships with relevant schools – such as historically Black colleges and universities – and community groups to aid those affected.

Some of the restorative justice efforts at Hasting have already begun. The university created an Indigenous Law Center and has established a fellowship for law students providing legal aid to indigenous communities.

The renaming will cost UC Hastings an estimated $3 million, said spokesperson Elizabeth Moore. A fiscal analysis of the bill states there would be ongoing costs of about $559,000 for the college’s Indigenous Law Center.

Other measures outlined in the bill include the formation of a nonprofit that will aid tribal leadership with legal matters around water and property rights. The university would also create a memorial within its campus for the Yuki and Round Valley tribes and establish scholarships for admitted law students who are tribal members.

Brown said the initiatives are a big step.

“The tribal council has ongoing issues with water rights and land boundaries,” said Brown. “The tribal members have legal issues with land and timber, so that pro bono legal advice will be helpful. The scholarships will help the tribe to become more educated and successful.”

Russ said that response to some of the proposed measures has been mixed, citing varying opinions on a memorial for the Yuki people.

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