Local school changes name, mascot after student petition

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SAN DIEGO — Junípero Serra High School will no longer be named after the Spanish missionary or use the conquistador as its mascot after students petitioned for the change, saying it was wrong to honor a brutal period in California history.

The Tierrasanta high school will now be known as Canyon Hills High, and their mascot will change to the Rattlers, along with school colors, amounting to a full re-brand. The San Diego Unified School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the change.

Because the school is already in the midst of a large-scale renovation, the added cost of a name-change will not be as significant as it usually would be, Principal Erica Renfree told the San Diego Union-Tribune. The primary cost will be changing the school’s athletic uniforms.

The students who started the name and mascot-change effort did so, they say, to right a wrong in history. They believe honoring Serra ignores state history where Spanish conquerors killed millions of indigenous people and Serra helped establish the mission system, which assimilated indigenous people to Catholicism and Spanish culture, helping further Spanish colonization and erase existing traditions in the region.

The petition had the support of Renfree as well as a majority of the student body. Emma Taila, one of the students who started the petition, says the idea is not to “erase history” or “pretend like it didn’t happen,” but that having the school named after Serra inappropriately celebrates his legacy.

“A lot of people make the argument Serra had good intentions — of course, we don’t know that for sure because all of our accounts are from a Spanish perspective — but our view is that he was complicit in the mission system that killed and enslaved a lot of native people,” Taila told FOX 5. “And we can’t just go around honoring everyone who had good intentions with a high school name, especially if they caused so much damage.”

Vice Chancellor Kevin C. Eckery, a spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese, issued this statement:  

“What to name a school is up to the community and to the school board. Many factors go into that decision and it isn’t our call. As Catholics, we are grateful for the sacrifices made by St. Junipero Serra and for bringing our faith to California. The Mission-Era remains a very important part of California’s history. Studying that history, and learning from it, is what education is all about.”

Local indigenous leaders praised the name change. “This very important name change starts the process of telling the truth,” said Angela Elliott-Santos, chairwoman of the Kumeyaay Heritage Preservation Council and Manzanita band of the Kumeyaay Nation, the U-T reports. “The change will provide for a more accurate and ethical view of history.”

According to the newspaper, the new mascot — the Rattler, or ‘ewii tenwai — is sacred to the Kumeyaay.

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