President Jane Close Conoley sent out an email to the campus announcing the official “retirement” of the 51-year-old Prospector Pete mascot Thursday afternoon.
“Inclusive excellence is a core value of the Long Beach State University community,” Conoley said in a statement. “Our work in this arena is never done. We want to ensure that we hear from as many people as possible who have a stake not only in the issue at hand, but also in the life and history of our campus.”
The statue will be moved from the front of Liberal Arts 5 to an alumni center, which is still in development, as previously reported by the Daily 49er.
An Associated Students Inc. March resolution helped initiate the move to retire Prospector Pete and argued prospectors’ role in the colonization of Indigenous American communities as a reason for the move.
Long Beach State was established in 1949, more than 100 years after the California gold rush. The university was constructed on top of Puvungna village, a burial site of the Los Angeles-based Indigenous Tongva Tribe.
The statue, formally called the Forty-Niner Prospector, was built by Ben Baker in March 1967, and has since received criticism from American Indigenous campus members and ASI.
“All the people that are older, [who] fell in love … with the 49er mascot, they have these associations that for them is inspiring.” said Craig Stone, director of American Indian Studies. “For us, we know a different history. For us, it’s an icon of genocide. But if that’s not your history, you never knew that stuff.”
While some current students are pleased with the decision, others are concerned about erasing a part of history.
Sarah Torres, an English education major, is in support of the prospector’s retirement, stating that she sees it as a symbol of colonialism.
“I think it’s actually a really great change,” Torres said. “I kind of feel like a lot of universities are realizing that what they’re having as their symbols actually have history behind it.”
Deon Williams, a sophomore history major, is opposed to having an animal mascot.
“I’m just tired of seeing animals honestly,” Williams said. “Then we wouldn’t be the 49ers, unless we just have a nugget. Maybe someone can dress up as a nugget.”
Williams thinks no one should forget the history of the prospectors.
“I’m not rocking with that Prospector Pete, but I understand that it’s been around for a long time, so people have to get used to it and not try to ignore the past,” Williams said.
As a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, history major and Native American cultures minor Christopher Wilson asked his parents about their opinion on Prospector Pete prior to the announced retirement. Wilson’s parents stated they weren’t offended by it at all. However, Wilson’s biggest concern is that in removing Prospector Pete people will forget an important part of history.
“Well if we take [the statue] away, will we still get the same type of debate and discussion and controversy as we would if it wasn’t here?” Wilson said.
This story has been updated on Sept. 23 at 6:24 p.m.
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My great-grandfather was a 49er. He settled land in Half Moon Bay and was a judge there for nearly 50 years. He was reputed to be the fairest judge in California, regarded so because he was fair to all regardless of race, color, creed, sex or origin, including indigenous Indians. He sold the land upon which Stanford University was built to Leland Stanford. One of his daughters was the first woman to graduate from medical school in California and the first woman doctor in San Mateo County. In short, were it not for men and women pioneers in California, there would be no California university system. History teaches us both what works and what doesn’t. Learn everything you can from it. But, if you stick your collective heads in the sand and ignore history, you’ll make the same mistakes all over again sooner or later.