Addressing the Wrongs of Serranus Hastings

Dear UC Hastings Community,

As many of you have likely already seen, the NY Times today published a story online about the school and its namesake, “A California Law School Reckons With the Shame of Native Massacres.” It will be in the print version later this week.

The piece fairly explores the history of Serranus Hastings and the horrific acts he perpetrated in the 1850s in the Round Valley of Northern California. These acts were unforgivable at the time and are unforgivable today. The story also considers a question that I have been considering over the last five years: how can our generation, and future generations, best address those wrongs. I write to you today to offer an update on our work. This is a lengthy message, but I feel it warrants as much detail as possible.

I want to make clear my position on the issue of the name of the College, which was not accurately represented in today’s news story. There is no effort from me or the College to oppose a name change. My commitment is to do what we can to bring restorative justice to the Yuki People (also known as N’om, Powe’ N’om, and Wit’uconomom People of Eden Valley and Round Valley) and other Indigenous communities who were affected by Serranus Hastings’ horrific acts. My own understanding of what the College can and should do relative to the Yuki People is evolving. It evolves as we build relationships with members of the Yuki People and the Round Valley Indian Tribes (RVIT). I want to be clear that it is not my decision or in the College’s authority to change our name. Such a change would require action from the California State Legislature and Governor’s Office. I and my colleagues have communicated regularly with elected officials in Sacramento about our efforts (see below some highlights of those), and made clear that if changing the name is something the College needs to do to bring restorative justice and there is legislative action to facilitate that change, I will engage with that process in earnest.

In the meantime, we continue to put our focus on what actions we can take now, with the direction of the Yuki People and RVIT. I have dedicated my career to UC Hastings, having started teaching here in 1987. This place is my professional home. As you may recall, when I first became dean in 2017, I heard about Serranus Hastings’ legacy through an Op-Ed published in the SF Chronicle by John Briscoe. I pledged immediately to find out more about this legacy and read two recently published books on the subject of the California genocide of the nineteenth century. I needed to learn more. I could not then, and will not now, shy away from the stained history of our founding dean.

In the late spring of 2017, I organized a committee of faculty, staff, alumni, and students, the “Hastings Legacy Review Committee” (HLRC), which was charged with researching and making recommendations to me on this history. I also commissioned a memorandum from one of the authors of the books I had read, Brendan Lindsay, to examine in depth Serranus Hastings’ responsibility for the genocide of the 1850s. Dr. Lindsay, a historian at Sacramento State, ultimately wrote a 100-page memorandum on this subject. What was revealed in that research only made clearer the atrocities of our founding dean and added to my motivation and commitment to take all action possible under our control.

The Committee did excellent work and made a score of recommendations regarding how the College could approach restorative justice for the terrible crimes of Serranus Hastings. They reached out to RVIT and thus started what is now a years-long endeavor to build trust and friendship with both the RVIT Tribal Council and with a group of descendants from the Yuki tribe. The Yuki People are members of the federally-recognized Round Valley Indian Tribes. That work is now ongoing with the help of the Restorative Justice Advisory Committee made up of students, staff, faculty, alumni, and local partners.

As with any sovereign nation, there is no one unified voice of the RVIT, just as there is no one unified voice among the Yuki People, even on the issue of what to do with the name of the College. That said, we have made all efforts to work with the Yuki People and RVIT on restorative justice efforts that can effectuate real change for their communities. All of our efforts are at the pace, readiness, and interests of the Yuki People and, where relevant, the RVIT community. Below are a few recent examples of efforts in progress. You can see an updated list here on our website.

  • We were asked to explore how we might improve broadband access into Round Valley, which has had internet access difficulties. These difficulties made communication challenges even tougher during COVID. CFO David Seward and my Chief of Staff Jenny Kwon worked closely with RVIT to connect the tribe with the California Public Utilities Commission and bring awareness of all the state and federal funding opportunities available, as well as to introduce them to a native-owned consulting firm experienced in this work.
  • There is interest from the Yuki community to record the stories of their elders, although there is understandable caution before moving forward. I have already secured funds to hire professionals experienced in such work and we are ready to move at the direction of the Yuki community members.
  • The people of RVIT have many legal challenges, including individual and community needs. Associate Dean Gail Silverstein is working to establish public interest fellowships with nonprofit organizations in the Round Valley area that will offer pro bono legal services to RVIT members and other California Indigenous communities. I am fundraising to support that effort and have already allocated initial funds for Summer 2022 fellowships.
  • There was interest in inspiring the youth of Round Valley to join their school’s debate club, attend college, and consider a career in law. We are inquiring about how we might connect our incredible Moot Court Team with the middle and high school in Round Valley. Senior Assistant Dean Toni Young stands ready to engage in that effort when the opportunity arises.
  • The Indigenous Law Center, overseen by inaugural Director Professor Jo Carrillo, is leading various other efforts not only related to Round Valley, but to the College’s ongoing relationship with the San Francisco Ramaytush Ohlone community. To that end, Professor Carrillo is co-teaching a course with Visiting Professor Jonathan Cordero, Ph.D., founder and executive director of the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone. UC Hastings sits on the ancestral land of the Ramaytush Ohlone, and our students in their course this very semester will effectuate real change as they work to establish a formal land acknowledgment endorsed by the Ramaytush Ohlone and the College. Professor Matthew Fletcher will join the College as a Visiting Professor teaching a course on tribal law and tribal courts.

The generational pain of the living descendants of the genocide funded by Serranus Hastings and supported by the State of California remains deep and ever-present. As Yuki descendant and my friend Ben Medel has stated, his people “live in the dreams of our ancestors.” Those wise words have stayed with me and help guide our efforts. I and other colleagues have visited the RVIT reservation in Covelo many times now and have heard first-hand their ongoing trauma and pain. We also hosted a group of Yuki People here in San Francisco in late August of this year. Over the years, one visit or meeting at a time, by showing up and offering our tangible efforts to support the needs of the community, I am proud to say that trust is increasing and friendships have formed.

Please do not hesitate to contact me or members of the Restorative Justice Advisory Board with further questions. You can also sign up for my Office Hours here and submit to my comment box here.

Best Regards,

David

David L. Faigman
Chancellor and Dean
John F. Digardi Distinguished Professor of Law
University of California Hastings College of the Law