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'We're still here' | Sacramento City Unified renames three schools to address America's dark past

Peter Burnett, John Sutter and Kit Carson led the systematic killing and enslavement of thousands of Indigenous people in California in the 19th century.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — It's that time of year again. Students with Sacramento City Unified School District are headed back-to-school.

The first day of school is Aug. 31. Before that, students get the chance to meet their teachers and get their class schedule.

Some students with Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) are returning to class with a new school name. Peter Burnett Elementary is now Suy:u Elementary. Suy:u is the Miwok name for hawk.

Carrie Sandifer lives near the school. Her granddaughter, Ariana, will be attending the school as a third grader. Sandifer says she's welcoming the new school name.

"I had no idea that the name had changed," Sandifer said. "I've been in the neighborhood for 40 years and this is the school that my kids went to. It's been Peter Burnett for a long time, but we will get used to it."

Sacramento City Unified also changed Sutter Middle School to Miwok Middle School and Kit Carson International Academy to Umoja International Academy. 

Umoja is the first principle of Kwanzaa, an African American and Pan-African holiday that celebrates history, values, family, community and culture. Umoja means to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

"All students deserve to learn in a school that is welcoming inside and out," said Chinua Rhodes, SCUSD Board President. "The rebranding of three schools in our district will help us live up to this aspiration. I appreciate the school name selection committee's extensive work to research appropriate options and recommend these inspiring new names for our schools." 

Peter Burnett, John Sutter and Kit Carson led the systematic killing and enslavement of thousands of Indigenous people in California in the 19th century. SCUSD recently made a commitment to address school facility names that do not support the District's values. 

The school district plans on looking at opportunities to address additional school names and mascots that glorify racist historical figures and symbology.

"Renaming these schools is a restorative process that promotes inclusivity and celebrates diversity," said Jamee Villa, SCUSD Board Member. "This positive step will help Sac City Unified students and families learn more about cultures, communities, and history that inspired the selection of these new school names."

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Suy:u Elementary held a school renaming dedication ceremony on Tuesday. Dozens of students and families attended the event. It came with live music, vendors, as well as a land acknowledgement and ribbon cutting.

“We are always excited to welcome back our students to school each year, but this year is so very different,” said Jennifer Santos, principal at Suy:u Elementary. “We’re thrilled to host this dedication ceremony that we planned with members of the Wilton Rancheria so that we can teach our students about these restorative efforts that will begin right here at our school this year.”

Members of Wilton Rancheria attended the event too. It's the only federally recognized Tribe in Sacramento. During the ceremony, Wilton Rancheria provided teachings of Native people, culture, dance and song.

"We're not trying to erase the history of our great state," said Jesus Tarango, Tribal Chairman with Wilton Rancheria. "We are trying to bring light to the true history of the state. It's very fitting for us to change it to Suy:u. Suy:u in our language means the hawk. The hawk, like many animals, has its significance to our people and there's no greater name to have for our young people to be protected by our brother up in the air."

With the school renaming, Wilton Rancheria says more needs to be done, like telling untold stories of America's dark past. 

"It's one thing to change a school name, but I'd like to see what the school plans to do and how to incorporate the Tribe today. One of the things that troubles our people is that people look at us like we're past tense. 'These people were here. These people did this before.' But we're still here."

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