Natives Say Goodbye to Prospector Pete Statue!

“Towering over the courtyard at California State University, Long Beach, is the statue of Prospector Pete, the epitome of the rugged 49ers who came to the state looking for gold and land. To some, it is an innocuous icon harkening back to the university’s first president, Pete Peterson, who frequently spoke of having ‘struck the gold of education.’ For others, the bearded and weathered statue is an upsetting relic that sanctions the brutish treatment of indigenous people in the state during the Gold Rush.” J. A. Real, The New York Times

The statue of Prospector Pete at California State University, Long Beach.CreditCreditThomas R. Cordova:The Orange County Register

Excerpt: Icon or Insensitive Relic? Prospector Pete Is On Its Way Out! By Jose A. Del Real

As scholars and students on campuses across the country grapple with debates over free speech and political correctness, Prospector Pete has emerged as a divisive symbol in California.

“Walking by a statue that’s put in a prominent place on campus, in an almost honorary way, that’s another type of trauma that’s being imposed on me. This is a part of our family history,’ said Miztlayolxochitl Aguilera, 20, who is of Tongva Indian descent. ‘I heard the stories of murder and rape and genocide growing up. Somebody else, they might not notice the statue. They might not feel what I feel as a California Indian when I see that symbol on campus.’

The school was built on the former site of the sacred village of Puvungna, where the Tongva indigenous people lived long before European contact…Now, after years of activism and a formal committee inquiry, Jane Conoley, the university’s president, announced last month that the statue will be formally moved. The cartoonish Prospector Pete costume mascot used at athletic games, which has been slowly phased out in recent years, will also be formally retired.

Ms. Aguilera, who recalled when her grandmother forbade her from acknowledging her indigenous ancestry, out of fear that it would lead to further marginalization, praised the move.

‘This is an acknowledgment of our trauma as indigenous people who suffered,’she said. ‘And it’s also an acknowledgment that we have to learn about these histories, about what’s going on around us.’

While the decision has not drawn the sorts of controversy and protest seen on other campuses and in other parts of the country, some alumni have questioned whether the university is merely catering to students and, in the process, severing ties with part of its past. ‘We have heard from some who believe we are censoring the history of our campus and bending to political correctness,’ said Terri Carbaugh, a university spokeswoman…Prospector Pete will be moved to a new alumni center after the university breaks ground on the project, which it intends to do next spring. The precise timeline and location have yet to be announced.”

Category: Culture, Native Rights