Our View-Prospector Pete pleads open dialogue about racism

Barack Obama’s election as the first black president is a great moment in our history. We’ve come a long way since separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites, but still have far to go. There is still racism in this country and it continues to be an unresolved issue.

Last week, new U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder called us a “nation of cowards” because we don’t talk enough about race. “The need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures,” Holder said.

The need to talk about racial issues, images and policy became more evident last week when the New York Post published a cartoon depicting a dead chimpanzee, shot by police officers who were captioned saying, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” Many felt the ape represented Obama and evoked racist symbolism.

The Daily Forty-Niner is not advocating infringement on free speech, but instead that we need to include race in our societal discussions.

Following Holder’s lead, we’re compelled to ask, is Cal State Long Beach a campus of cowards? Do we avoid discussing race because it’s too sensitive, or is it because many see racism as a thing of the past?

Rather than looking outward for discussion to begin, perhaps we should take an introspective look at how we address race issues.

Here on campus, a symbol of California’s horridly racist past dances around in costume. To many people of color, the Prospector Pete mascot and the ominous miner statue on the upper campus, combined with the “49er” school spirit iconography — emblazoned on everything from coffee mugs to our beloved sports teams — represent a violent history.

During the Gold Rush, Anglo forty-niners wiped out 80 percent of the American Indian population. From 1849 to 1861, the genocides reduced California Indian populations from approximately 150,000 to less than 30,000.

The mining camps used to advertise “Indian hunts” in local newspapers and store windows. Documentation abounds of bounties offered and paid for Indian scalps. Men were the most valuable, but women and children’s scalps could pay for a drunken night on the town.

Many miners created cottage industries of Indian slavery. Women and children were kidnapped from their villages and sold into domestic servitude or to mining camp brothels.

Georgiana Sanchez, a CSULB American Indian Studies professor, said there have been repeated attempts by the American Indian community to shed the 49er/Prospector Pete imagery.

“This [Prospector Pete statue] is a very offensive symbol to us. It causes deep pain because the 49ers wiped out our ancestors, cultures and languages with the genocides. We personally have long wished it would be torn down,” Sanchez, an elder of the Chumash Nation, said.

To add insult to injury, the statue seems to scowl across a campus as if to say, “Go away Indians, or else.”

Sanchez said CSULB officials once offered to change the school symbol to 49er/Gabriellino, the latter referring to the ancient Tongva people whose land CSULB is built over. That compromise was refused because “Gabriellino” is considered a racist name harkening to when the Tongva tribe was enslaved and victimized in the mission system.

While American Indians were the most brutalized victims of Prospector Pete and his bigoted cronies, Mexicans and Chinese weren’t treated much better. They were beaten and murdered by miners stealing their placer claims, their lands and their histories. But that is for future discussion.

We not only need to open the dialogue about race relations, we must push it. We must consider Holder’s words and seek, “opportunities to engage one another [so] we can hasten the day when the dream of individual, character-based acceptance can actually be realized.”

Only then can we hope to become a post-racial society.



  1. Lakota Nation

    Joel Hawes: please get educated. Just because you know the name of the “Trail of Tears” doesn’t make you knowledgeable about the genocides committed against our people. To be so dismissive is proof that racism in America is alive and kicking. That’s how our cultures and languages were eradicated in the first place. “Kill the Indian to save the man” was the predominate mindset in taking over OUR lives during the Dawes Act, the Gold Rush, ad infinitum. We don’t ask for reparations, only that such vile and disgusting images are not flaunted in our children’s faces at a public university. Not a lot to ask for after all is said and done, is it? Prospector Pete and the 49ers are to us what the swaztika is to Jews; what the burning cross is to blacks, etc.; symbols of murder and oppression. We were stripped of the basic tenets of the Declaration of Independence when were called “savages.” We were denied the basic concepts of the Constitution by having our religion outlawed, and we were deprived of equality by being denied U.S. citizenship until 1924. Wake up and smell the sage, pal. Educate yourself or it will happen to another race. History repeats….

  2. Peter Boyd

    As a “Pete,” with an ‘Anglo’ b.g. I think that all Petes and their siblings should distance themselves in a clear and outspoken way from our shameful past of stealing land and resources by mass murder, and then calling it “Progress.” Every foot of land that we work and live on was stolen from the original “People of the Land.” In Long Beach it’s Tongva. In Israel it’s Palestinian, In British occupied Ireland it’s Celt. To have insulting charactures officially sanctioned is vile insensitivity. The officials need to step up and remove them. That’s progress.

  3. Catherine Herrera

    I am very impressed with this editorial, and it gives me great hope that dialog can begin. I truly believe that will be the start to a healing.

    In the search for my family roots in San Jose, California, I sadly came across this very painful early history in our state. In fact, it is at this very violent and tumultuous period in our state’s history when we have the hardest time tracing and documenting our family history. Part of our family, we recently discovered, lived in San Francisco in 1860.

    I created a film entitled “Witness the Healing” that considers the history of my family as I search for whether we are indeed of Ohlone descent, stumbling across the painful history in California, helping me to better understand my relatives and their need to forget the past.

    I was invited in the summer of 2008 to create a public video projection on Coit Tower in San Francisco, incorporating footage from Witness the Healing and photographs, to honor our relations and the history so many native people in this state have survived. You can see a short six minute version here http://www.flordemielfilms.com/Coit%20Tower%20Projection%20Witness%20the%20Healing.html.
    or the full 24-minute uncut projection here http://www.flordemielfilms.com/Coit%20Tower%20Projection%20Witness%20the%20Healing.html or
    (PLEASE NOTE: I had permission to film the special scenes from the mission, and the tribal chairman has seen this film. Additionally, I was one among many there that day, including press, who captured moments on that very historic day in the mission. Please do not assume filming is commonly allowed, nor that it should be done without permission.)

    Thank you again for your courage. I hope that the people of Long Beach and Santa Barabara, where the Chumush are currently fighting that an offensive mascot also be decommissioned, can be respectful. If you only consider the painful history already suffered, is is absolutely necessary to have offensive mascots in institutions receiving public money, and serving the public? Just consider what you’d do if you were faced with a similar insult. Can we just put ourselves in each other’s shoes for a moment?

    Its a refreshing change to have this open dialog in a university setting, or anywhere for that matter.

  4. If we’re going to talk about race, Al Sharpton and the NAACP can’t go jumping down people’s throats for every little thing that has anything to do with race.
    To blame one person or one group for reducing the American Indian population is preposterous. Are you going to disown the entire federal government because they forced the relocation to American Indians on the trail of tears?
    Just because you are a minority does not mean everyone is going to cater to all of your sensitivities. Chill. Not every 49er was a murderer.

  5. Correction of deepest importance: The gold rush reduced the populations of California Indians (more specific). As a Tongva leader, I appreciate your courage in speaking to a history that somehow became irrelevant at the societal level, and certainly at the institutional level. We appreciate the support of our campus administration and students as we move forward to a community of inclusiveness on the sacred land of the gathering…Puvungna.

  6. Kudos to the editors for the fortitude to address this issue. Know that your words lend encouragement to all of us who seek to be included in US and California history. I am a graduate of the UC system (Santa Barbara) and a professor of religious studies here in Indiana, but enrolled with the Potawatomi tribe of Oklahoma. In OK, many friends and family are trying to address the issue of the “Sooners” of OU,named for those who not only stole lands in the Land Run, but “sooners” stole land from the stealers of the land. They jumped the line too soon. It has always amazed me to see educational institutions, students and alumnae, talk about the “tradition” of racist mascots. The election of President Obama was made possible in many ways, not the least of which was a persistent effort to address stereotypes. Until history as taught K-12 includes all people in the formation of this nation we cannot hope to overcome the horrible legacies of the past. As long as many of us native people have fought for change, it will not happen without the support and voices of those like this newspaper who dare to make a stand. Thank you.

  7. Lakota Nation

    This statue looks pretty wicked to me. I wouldn’t want that guy bumping into me in a dark alley. I’ve seen some of the ads for “Indian hunts” and they are pretty racist. I looked at the plaque on the statue and find it unusual that it was placed there in 1967 during the civil rights movement. The 49ers used to wear Indian scalps on their belts and display Indian body parts as trophies in the mining camps. The prevailing mentality “seems” to have been, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” There’s a PBS documentary for kids about the 49ers that teaches kids that these racists were actually heroic adventurers. That’s almost as offensive as CSULB promoting symbols of racism. Imagine if it was a statue of a klansman in a white sheet burning a cross. It would be torn down in a minute. Prof. Sanchez is absolutely correct that this offends our people.

  8. I’m not sure I agree that the “statue seems to scowl across a campus as if to say, ‘Go away Indians, or else.'” But I appreciate the daily 49er educating me on a topic that I did not know much about. Good Job.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Daily 49er newsletter