SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego Unified School District voted Tuesday night to change the name of Junipero Serra High School in Tierrasanta, following a student-led effort to change the school's mascot.
The school's name will become Canyon Hills High School/Mat Kwatup KunKun, the latter representing the Kumeyaay translation of the school's new name. The school's mascot will also change from the Conquistadors to the Rattlers and the school's primary colors will be changed from brown and gold to red and black.
SDUSD's approval comes following an effort led by students Emma and Charlotte Taila, who started an online petition to change the school's mascot last year. The sisters and supporters said the school's mascot represented Spanish colonization and its historical link to violence against Native Americans.
"[The mascot] represents Spanish colonialism and the brutal impact that it had on Native Americans," said Emma last June. "With the establishment of missions, he participated in a lot of cultural erasure and violence again Native Americans."
The sisters wanted to see a new mascot that better represented the student body and region, but the school's principal, Dr. Erica Renfree, went a step further and suggested a new name was needed as well. The school's namesake, Father Junipero Serra who founded Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769, has been a subject of debate over his role in Spanish colonization.
Tuesday, the district's board unanimously approved the change. In a statement, the district said they would begin working on a modernization project to update the school to reflect the changes.
"This effort was led by sisters and students Emma and Charlotte Taila, who surveyed the Junipero Serra High School community for a potential name change. The majority voted in favor of Canyon Hills High School. The local Kumeyaay community also supported the name change, along with the recommendation to add the Kumeyaay translation of 'Mat Kwatup KunKun.' The final product went to the school names committee, with the majority recommending the name change of 'Canyon Hills High School/Mat Kwatup KunKun,' along with the 'Rattlers' as the new mascot.
The change will be implemented as soon as possible. Our Facilities Planning and Construction (FPC) team is working on a campus wide modernization project at Junipero Serra High School. The project includes exterior building and interior classroom renovations, along with athletic facilities upgrades. The project team is working closely with campus leadership on a signage, color, and graphics package, to be implemented with the campus wide modernization, which will include the new name of 'Canyon Hills High School' with the Kumeyaay translation of 'Mat Kwatup KunKun.'
The call for a change came as protesters have toppled statues of Father Serra in San Francisco and Los Angeles last year. In a statement to ABC 10News last year, the California Catholic Conference of Bishops said, "... the historical truth is that Serra repeatedly pressed the Spanish authorities for better treatment of Native American communities ..."
Grace Alvarez Sesma, of the Kanap Kuahan Coalition, said in a letter to the district, "San Diego County is home to 19 federally recognized tribes, all of whom have suffered death, enslavement, rape, forced relocation, and dissociation from their linguistic and cultural practices at the hands of the Spanish military and the Mission system. It is an affront to the original stewards and caretakers of this land that we all live on and benefit from to name an educational institution after their oppressor, and furthermore the mascot of that institution after their murderer."
In a separate letter, Shana Hazan and Godwin Hilga of the San Diego Human Relations Commission wrote, "when our public schools are named after individuals who advanced slavery, systemic racism, and genocide and we allow those names to remain on school property, we implicitly endorse their values as our own. This is no longer acceptable."