The Prospector Pete mascot was the topic of debate at this week’s Associated Students Inc. Senate meeting Wednesday. According to ASI senators, indigenous students have been fighting for the school to dissociate from the Gold Rush era since the ’70s and the statue has served as a painful reminder for these students and their community.
In a previous Daily 49er article, American Indian Studies director Craig Stone addressed the problem indigenous students had with Prospector Pete and called him an icon for genocide. According to Stone, prospectors were behind mass killings of California Indians during the Gold Rush.
“The students are constantly reminded of a traumatic past,” said Leen Almahdi, senator of health and human services. “We could get input from indigenous students and see what they really want as a mascot.”
To accommodate indigenous students, ASI Senate passed a resolution for its first reading to remove the Prospector Pete statue in front of the Liberal Arts-5 building.
Cal State Long Beach is built on sacred grounds once belonging to the Tongva tribe, an indigenous group who inhabited the Los Angeles Basin and the Southern Channel Islands for centuries before American colonization. During the Gold Rush era, the people of the Tongva tribe were forced from grounds that were historically theirs.
“The children of these tribes were taken,” Senator-at-large Thulani Ngazimbi said. “The girls were taken and used as maids on one coast, and the boys were taken to be gardeners on the other coast. This was systematically planned by the U.S. government in order to remove the people’s culture.”
The statue was created by an art major in 1967 and was not supposed to resemble a prospector.
“It was students [who] dubbed him the name Prospector Pete,” said Senator-at-large Danielle Carancho. “There is a Visual Artists Rights Act that protects any sculpture without the consent from the artist from being removed.”
“The reality of what happened to our ancestors in 1848 still affects us today,” Ngazimbi said. “Even if we were to rebrand the statue those associations still exist. We are not just trying to address the visual aspect. What do we do to atone for the historical damage that has happened? That is what we are trying to address.”
Senators suggested rebranding the statue without getting rid of it by forming a committee of indigenous students in order to pick a new mascot and bring awareness to the campus about replacing the statue. Senators suggested that removing the statue was step one for honoring indigenous students. They also introduced the idea of replacing the statue with a plaque that honors native culture or having indigenous students paint a mural.
“I think becoming more equitable in the process of picking a mascot is very important,” Ngazimbi said. “The students who have been affected by this should have a say.”
Senators discussed the desire to rebrand the campus and stick with the Beach theme without forgetting the history of Native Americans.
“The intention isn’t to shame but to educate people on this part of history,” said Ngazimbi.