California college moves ‘Prospector Pete’ statue from plaza

Prospector Pete statue (AP Photo)

LONG BEACH, Calif.- California State University, Long Beach, will move its half-century-old “Prospector Pete” statue away from a prominent place on campus because of the impact the 1849 gold rush had on indigenous people.

A statement on the university website said the gold rush was “a time in history when the indigenous peoples of California endured subjugation, violence and threats of genocide.”

According to the university, the bronze statue formally named “The Forty-Niner Man” evolved from the creation of the original college in 1949 and founding President Pete Peterson’s references to having “struck the gold of education.”

The statue, unveiled in 1967, shows a rugged-looking, bearded man sitting on a rock. It features no gold mining or panning tools.

In recent years, university athletics have moved away from the college’s traditional “49er” and “Prospector Pete” sports team and mascot names in favour of the nickname “Beach.”

The university said the statue on a plaza will be retired to a campus area dedicated to alumni, but no further details were provided.

University President Jane Close Conoley announced the decision in an email Thursday after more than a year of controversy over whether the statute should be removed, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported .

The campus about 20 miles (32 kilometres) south of downtown Los Angeles was once the location of an ancient village of the indigenous Tongva people.

The newspaper said the university’s Associated Students organization worked since September 2017 on a resolution to move the statue.

The resolution , which passed in March, said that prior to the gold rush era “the people of the Tongva Tribe were enslaved by settlers to build missions in the greater Los Angeles area” and were forced to assimilate.

It added that more than 80 per cent “of the Indigenous American population were killed in the twenty years following the gold rush era due to malnutrition, enslavement, murder.”

In place of the statue, the resolution said, should be “a recognition of our shameful previous association with prospectors.”

It suggested a plaque.

Earlier this month, a statue depicting an American Indian at the feet of a Spanish cowboy and a missionary was removed from the city of San Francisco’s 1890s-era Pioneer Monument near City Hall.

 

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