The first known people to step foot in America were Native Americans, not any European explorer. The history of indigenous people’s lands being taken over by colonizers is long and violent, and California is no exception.
California was most expansively colonized by the Spanish. The fist of them to arrive on the California Coast was Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in September of 1542 (Early History of the California Coast). Spanish colonizers then created the missions, to “civilize” the area and spread their religious beliefs, the first of which was built in 1796 in San Diego by a Franciscan Father who came with another boat of Spanish settlers.
San Luis Obispo is home to the Chumash people, a tribe that inhabited most of the central coast — and still does. Once in the tens of thousands, the Chumash population spread from Malibu to Paso Robles (Chumash History). In 1796, a Spanish expedition reached Santa Barbara and five missions popped up on Chumash lands. Their population was decimated by European disease the Chumash who stayed in the area had to take menial jobs at farms and ranches (Chumash History).
The city of SLO as well as Cal Poly have made some steps towards repairing the relationship between SLO citizens, students, and the native community. The new Cal Poly housing community, yakʔitʸutʸu, is named for a Northern Chumash tribe. The seven individual residence halls “will draw their names from tribal sites found along the Central Coast: elewexe, nipumūʔ, tiłhini, tsʰɨtqawɨ, tšɨłkukunɨtš, tsɨpxatu and tsɨtkawayu,” (The SLO Tribune).
Cal Poly is also starting a campaign to help students learn to pronounce the names of these residence halls. Leah Mata, a tribal member who worked on the new dorm project, said, “Our goal is to provide a narrative using our own voice and world view to share how we view our places that matter,” to the SLO Tribune.
This is a start, but more will need to be done to improve the relationship. Jenell Navarro, Cal Poly ethnic studies professor, spoke about what she thinks should be done to continue to educate people on the indigenous lands they live on: