By: Miriam S Thurston

Original decal of the Stanford Indian

Original decal of the Stanford Indian

At the 2013 PENPEX Stamp Show I displayed a 24 page topical exhibit titled: Native American Indians on Stamps/Postcards/Cachets/Souvenir Sheets. This article is based on one of the pages of the exhibit which features a Native American tribe of the Bay Area and the sensitivity of a local university to their culture. That school, Stanford, is located in Palo Alto on the San Francisco Peninsula just three miles south of the Sequoia Stamp Club of Redwood City.

From 1930 until 1972, Stanford’s sports teams had been known as the Indians, and, during the period from 1951 to 1972, Prince Lightfoot was the official mascot. But in 1972, Native American students and staff members successfully lobbied to abolish the “Indian” name along with what they had come to perceive as an offensive and demeaning mascot.

Post Card of Stanford Chapel

Post Card of Stanford Chapel

Stanford’s team name is now the “Cardinal,” referring to the vivid red color (not the common song bird as at several other schools). Stanford has no official mascot, but the “Tree”, a member of the Stanford Band wearing a self-designed tree costume, appears at major Stanford sports events.

Stanford University was built on land originally inhabited by the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe. From the Stanford Chapel located at the center of the campus begins the main road which becomes University Avenue and stretches about a mile going through downtown Palo Alto and continuing on to the east end of the town to the bay shore near the Dumbarton Bridge. The construction boom that took place in the post-World War II years had resulted in the destruction of many Ohlone/Costanoan sites in the Bay Area. In the early 1950s a housing development was under construction called “University Village” in this area of East Palo Alto. Students from the Stanford Archeology Department determined that the area contained ancient California Indian artifacts such as pottery, arrow heads, tools, and bones that were more than 10,000 years old, and they were able to halt the construction. For a period of time, these artifacts were exhibited at the Stanford Museum.

Ohlone Indians in a Tule Boat in the San Francisco Bay 1822

Ohlone Indians in a Tule Boat in the San Francisco Bay 1822 (from Wikimedia.org.)

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Stanford anthropology organized digs in connection with many campus building projects, such as the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Students excavated some 600 Muwekma-Ohlone graves, storing the remains and artifacts in boxes at the Stanford Museum. In 1988, a University committee agreed to respect the tribe’s spiritual beliefs and rebury the bones already stored at the Stanford Museum. Now, whenever an Indian skeleton is found in the process of a dig, it is left in place. As for the artifacts, the University plans to mount exhibitions of the more interesting finds. That way, everyone will have a chance to glimpse the old Ohlone way of life.