Posted on March 16, 2021

San Diego Unified Changes Name of Junipero Serra High School

Kristen Taketa, San Diego Union-Tribune, March 9, 2021

San Diego Unified’s Junipero Serra High School will now be called Canyon Hills High School after students successfully petitioned for the name change, saying that the name of the founder of California’s mission system is offensive to indigenous peoples whose ancestors were subjected to its doctrine.

On Tuesday night, the San Diego Unified School Board unanimously voted for the name change and to change the school’s mascot from a conquistador to a rattlesnake, or a “Rattler.”

Students who started the name and mascot change effort said it’s offensive and racist to have a conquistador as a mascot because it represents the Spanish colonization of the Americas, during which Spanish conquerors carried out a genocide of indigenous peoples, killing millions by disease and by force. Serra was the founder of California’s mission system, which assimilated indigenous people to Catholicism and Spanish culture and was a key strategy of Spanish colonization.

“The mascot and Serra himself are tied to the oppression of native peoples, and we shouldn’t be glorifying a mascot like the conquistador with all the violence,” said Charlotte Taila, a Canyon Hills High junior who started a petition last summer to change the mascot. “We shouldn’t be cheering for conquistadors when there’s nothing to be celebrated.”

Local indigenous leaders praised the name change and said it will bring “much-needed healing” to the Kumeyaay and other first peoples.


In addition to changing the school’s name, Elliott-Santos said the Kumeyaay Nation looks forward to seeing an acknowledgement of Kumeyaay land on the school campus and working with the school to create an accurate curriculum about Kumeyaay culture and history.


The school will be renamed Canyon Hills, or Mat Kwatup KunKun, because it is located in the Tierrasanta and Murphy Canyon neighborhoods, which have a canyon landscape. Meanwhile, the neighborhood Tierrasanta is sometimes referred to as “The Island in the Hills.”

The new mascot — the Rattler, or ‘ewii tenwai — is sacred to the Kumeyaay, who frequently depict the animal on baskets, Elliott-Santos said.

The name change had support from the San Diego-based Kanap Kuahan Coalition, which includes the Kumeyaay and Original Peoples Alliance, Union del Barrio, Tipey Joa Native Warriors and American Indian Movement of Southern California.


San Diego city’s Human Relations Commission also supports the name change, saying that the Serra school name harms children because of its connection to “our broken and racist past.”

“As with the confederate names, using the name of Father Junipero Serra for school names and symbols has a traumatizing impact on students, families, teachers, and staff of all backgrounds,” the commission wrote in a letter to the superintendent and former board president.

Some Catholic leaders have pushed back against what they believe is the “cancel culture” of Serra, who was canonized as a saint in 2015. {snip}