San Diego, CA–Kanap Kuahan means “Tell the Truth.” At the formerly named Junipero Serra High School, students did just that. They studied, researched, listened, and learned, and didn’t stay silent.
On Monday, students joined district and community leaders at the newly renamed Canyon Hills High School, translated into Mat Kwatup KunKun in native Kumeyaay, to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a now federally observed holiday that commemorates Native American history and cultures.
While Indigenous Peoples’ Day builds on a longstanding effort to recognize and right injustices against indigenous communities, this year’s celebration at San Diego Unified is particularly meaningful, as it follows a year-long student-led effort to change the name of Junipero Serra High School.
“Our students demonstrated key leadership skills and were part of a historical moment for our school and broader community,” said Erica Renfree, Canyon Hills High Principal. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Students worked with school staff and the district’s Youth Advocacy, Restorative Justice, and Ethnic Studies teams to build a comprehensive community input process. Organizing forums, polls, and petitions, students ultimately convinced the San Diego Unified School Names Committee and Board of Education that a new name and mascot would create a school environment more inclusive and understanding of indigenous communities, serving as a small step toward restorative justice.
“Kanap Kuahan Coalition is proud to participate with the San Diego Unified School Names Committee in efforts to center diversity, equity, and inclusion in the process of naming schools and mascots,” said Olympia Beltran, a member of the Kanap Kuahan Coalition serving in the district’s School Names Committee and City of San Diego Human Relations Commission. “We are grateful for the opportunity to create visibility and space for Indigenous representation where there has previously been a deficit. It is an honor and privilege to work alongside such a cohesive and culturally competent team.”
The local effort at the Tierrasanta campus followed a racial justice reckoning in the United States over the last few years. From the Black Lives Matter movement to the movement to acknowledge the historic abuse of indigenous communities, young people from around the country have stood up to demand change.
In 2019, the San Diego Unified Board of Education passed its first resolution celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, recognizing that Indigenous Peoples have long lived on these lands, and the fact that San Diego is built upon the homelands and villages of the Indigenous Peoples of this region.
More recently, the district has emphasized the role of the School Names Committee, tasking the committee with reviewing the district’s School Names Policy.