Changing names: Honoring the indigenous identity

Feb. 15, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

The land that Stanford is built on is Muwekma Ohlone land.

But how many of my classmates know that?

How many times have I heard Stanford students say, “You’re the first native person I’ve ever met!” or the dreadful, “Native Americans still exist?” Freshman year was the hardest year of my life because of how deep these questions would bury my existence.

I constantly asked myself: Is my indigenous self, having grown up on the reservation, valued on this campus at all? Should I bury my identity so I can pursue something that seems relevant to my institution? Would that make me equal to my fellow students? Or how I wish I could write and speak in my indigenous language at Stanford because often times, English still slices my motherly tongue? Do they know that indigenous peoples still carry buckets of historical trauma in their homes? Or how the most incarcerated adolescent demographic  in this country is indigenous? Do they know that my little brother is one of the best runners in New Mexico because he, my family, and I truly believe his indigeneity makes him great?

No, they don’t know these stories.

Our stories are buried.

The indigenous narrative story often goes buried.

This is what it feels like to walk on a campus without visibility, without others knowing your people exist or that indigenous peoples have been stripped from the very land this institution is built upon. This is what it feels like to walk on a campus that tributes a person of history who was responsible for mass murders of indigenous peoples. Father Junipero Serra was responsible for the missionization of countless California indigenous peoples, stripping them of their language, culture, lands and — it pains me to say — lives.

A tribute to Junipero Serra continues to deprive current indigenous voices and students of their right to unabashed existence.

Walking on a campus where my colleagues and future leaders remain ignorant of my history is an excruciating reality.

It feels like my identity is being buried.

Every day, I walk on this campus.

And every day, I walk with prayers from my family. I walk in agony, thinking about how treacherous the histories are, and how resilient my people were in battle for me to even have a chance to lead the life I do today.

As a Stanford indigenous student, I walk in resilience.

As an indigenous Stanford student, I am tired. I am tired of being seen as a warrior. I am tired of the disregard for the indigenous voice that happens in leading universities. And most importantly, I am tired of walking on a campus where I’m expected to be resilient. That’s not to say that I won’t continue to be, but I chose Stanford for a reason. I chose Stanford to share that I am tired of walking resiliently when resilience is just a symptom of believing something bad will happen to me again.

As an indigenous student, walking on Stanford’s campus means much more than getting to the next class. It means walking towards an education that was mounted by countless years of my people fighting.

I chose Stanford to honor these fights through education. And that is precisely what honoring an indigenous person would do.

Celebrating an indigenous person instead of Junipero Serra makes absolute sense to me; in that choice, I see years of agony finally being recognized and indigeneity being celebrated — something long overdue on Stanford’s campus.

Honoring Junipero Serra sends the message that the University ignores pain felt by indigenous students when they find out that missionization is still taught in a narrative painting it as good for the indigenous peoples of California. This sends a message to the indigenous students that some religions are valued over others at a “diverse” university. Last, but certainly not least, it sends a message to the non-indigenous students that the indigenous experience during Junipero Serra’s time is one that has little to no value to Stanford.  

As an indigenous Stanford student, I love my school. I love how intellectually rich and empathetic the students and faculty at Stanford are. I love seeing Muwekma and the Native American Community Center proudly sit awaiting curious students. But I want to walk on a campus that celebrates my identity, rather than burying it by honoring a system that has tried to silence so many indigenous voices in the past.

Changing the names of Serra dorm,hall and street would open up doors to facilitate new conversations, and would reaffirm not only my identity, but also the many identities of indigenous students on this campus.

As a student walking on Stanford’s campus, my physical self is protected, but as an indigenous student, I want my spiritual self to be protected, too.

As a Stanford student, I am a strong believer in the Christian faith, and a traditional believer in the Acoma religion.

And as as an indigenous Stanford student, I am responsible for telling others why I’m proud to claim my traditional indigenous religion while being absolutely as proud of my Catholic identity.

As an indigenous Stanford student, I’m ready to walk not in resilience, but in beauty.

As an indigenous Stanford student, I’m ready for Stanford to join me.

– Chasity Salvador

Contact Chasity Salvador at chasitys ‘at’

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