CSUSM CHASES OFF TUKWUT
Tukwut disappeared at Cal State University San Marcos prior to campus elections for a mascot (Tukwut, the Luise
�o word for Mountain Lion, is pronounced “TOOK-woot”). Some say Tukwut walked into the brush at the eastern edge of the campus and never came back. Whatever the case, it needs to be pointed out that Tukwut disappeared before the student elections.
The first graduating class at CSUSM wanted to recognize the first people of the land where the campus is located, so a tribal elder was asked for a Luise�o word. The elder suggested several animal names, and the first graduating class voted on them and accepted Tukwut as a gift.
Unlike many colleges that inappropriately take the names of tribes to which they don’t belong, CSUSM had done something different. The college’s mission statement called for a global vision, so the students had started at home by acknowledging the oldest culture in our area.
The real story about how the college lost such an important gift has not yet been told but needs to be heard.
Let’s start with the story in the North County Times, which reported that the first graduating students voted for Tukwut. So far, so good. But then the story says that students found Tukwut didn’t fall trippingly off the tongue. The only word that does not seem to trip off the tongue is the newspaper’s source for this “fact.” But even if Tukwut (remember, sounds like “TOOK-woot”) is not a common word, should that matter? For more than 200 years the U.S. Government has insisted that Native Americans speak English, at times even taking American Indian children away from their families and forbidding them to speak indigenous languages. It does not speak well for the intelligence of Euro-Americans if we cannot learn one two-syllable word, a small word that was a gift, a word offered across a bloody and evil hole in history that still separates our peoples.
The North County Times unfortunately missed the real story of how Tukwut disappeared. No doubt the administration might say that the students voted for another name, but that is a partial truth. If you read the North County Times’ article carefully you will see that a “college committee” wanted to solve the mascot “problem.”
The newspaper does not say that the administration–not the students–initiated the committee and that the committee agreed that Tukwut–the students’ first choice–would be on the ballot. Yet somewhere between the committee work and the printing of the student ballot, Tukwut disappeared. Students had two choices: cougar or mountain lion, choices that would not require the college to change its Tukwut logo on stationary, sweatshirts, hats, website, etc.
CSUSM student Dolwain Green heard in the campus newsletter Tracks that students would get to vote again for Tukwut, and he expected the mascot to win. “We don’t want to go backwards,” Green said. “Tukwut reflects our efforts to appreciate and embrace diverse culture.”
But where did the Tukwut go? Asociated Student President David Alimi said Tukwut was missing from the referendum submitted to students by the University Image Task Force established by President Alex Gonzalez. “The task force wanted to avoid controversy,” Alimi said. “And nothing goes before the students without the president’s approval.”
Certainly Native American mascots can cause controversies when they are derogatory, as in the “Redskins,” or when non-Indians take a tribal name such as in the “Seminoles” or “Aztecs.” But Tukwut was not derogatory or a tribe name, so where did the controversy come from?
One of President Gonzalez’ first public acts as President of CSUSM was to announce in the Union Tribune that Tukwut would be “dropped for something with more ring.” He then admitted that he did not know how to spell the word. As educators, CSUSM administrators should probably learn the word. Learning is a good example for educators to set. Furthermore, learning a new word is a better use of administrators’ time than rigging student elections.
Now that the college has a mascot that even the globally-challenged can probably pronounce–is cougar pronounced “COO-gurr” or “COO-gahr”?–the campus can move on to the next set of business: the administration plans to rewrite the college’s mission statement, which calls for global vision. How can the college claim to have a global vision while manipulating a ballot to eliminate an indigenous word?
The Luise�o people have survived worse things than the rude behavior of the newest dignitary sent West. CSUSM students had hoped they could go forward, but a mascot name is such a small thing when one considers that after nearly a century such basic issues as the Luise�os’ water rights are still not respected in North County. As writer Sherman Alexie has said, until we have honored all treaties, it will be difficult for our two peoples to go forward.
To the Luise�os, at least one CSUSM faculty offers you an apology. To President Gonzalez’ administration, realize that when you refuse a gift of respect, the respect stays with the giver.
Brandon Cesmat is a Valley Center freelance writer and adjunct professor at CSUSM. This column appeared in The North County Times and Visions.