A dissent by tribal interests has held up the contest over a new name for Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo.
The Drake Leadership Council voted Friday to pull the name Olema Trail from the running after a spokesperson for the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria — a local tribal government — opposed using the word Olema.
“They said it was very problematic,” Liz Seabury, the school principal, told the council members. “They see their job as being stewards of and protecting the language. They think the use of the word Olema has been co-opted.”
Olema Trail was an ancient Coast Miwok name for the path from San Anselmo to the village of Olema in West Marin — the same general route as the current Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. The word Olema means “little coyote valley,” according to research by school students.
“It’s an interesting speed bump that we’ve hit,” Seabury said.
The final round of voting was to have started Friday with Bon Tempe versus Olema Trail. The panel put the process on hold until it makes a decision on how to proceed. That decision is scheduled for the next meeting at 4 p.m. April 1.
The exit of Olema Trail, which leaves only the name Bon Tempe still standing as a finalist, set off a chain reaction on the panel and in public comments. Over the last eight months, hundreds of Sir Francis Drake High School alumni who want to keep the name have rallied, protested, signed petitions, posted on social media and spoken at public meetings to express outrage at being excluded in the school’s name change process.
They are asking to be included in some type of communitywide vote, such as a binding referendum — and include keeping the name as an option. The school has been offering an online community voting option on its website, along with email polling of students, parents and staff. The results of each group of stakeholders are weighted equally at 25%. Keeping the Drake name was not included as an option.
“I think you you need to step back and rethink this whole thing,” said alumnus Will Oswald. “If you’re so concerned about respecting the wishes of the Graton Rancheria, why are you not concerned about respecting the wishes of the 1,700 people on the petition who don’t want to change the name?”
Alumnus Alex Dixon suggested adding back into the pool the name of Michael V. Drake, who was selected in July as the 21st president of the University of California. Because Drake is an African-American, the honor would address the original intent of the name change — to remove Sir Francis Drake because of the 16th century English explorer’s ties to slavery and to honor Black Americans — while also keeping the name Drake intact for sports uniforms, athletic fields and alumni allegiance, he said.
“It would be a win-win,” Dixon said.
Kevin Magee, a teacher at the school, said he would be in favor of adding back in Michael Drake, whose name was excluded earlier because it too closely resembled Sir Francis Drake. Magee also favored adding the late Olympian and Drake school teacher Archie Williams, an African American, whose name did not make the final round.
“I think we may have lost our way,” Magee said, pointing to the emphasis on names from native people. The original intent, he said, was to respond to a flood of outrage that stemmed from the death of African American George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police.
“In 50 years, will people look back on this and see that it was a clear decision?” Magee said.
Panel member Karen Mixon-Martin, a school parent, said she was concerned about using any names of people, calling them “problematic.”
Even the option of adding back Creekside as a finalist in a contest against Bon Tempe, the name of a nearby lake, drew concerns on Friday.
“Bon Tempe has one of the murkiest origins,” said teacher Jasper Thelin. “It was either an Anglicized version of the name of two Italian brothers, a mispronounced French word or a reference to Tempe, Arizona.”
School students have posted their research on the potential names at the website, tamdistrict.org/highschool1327.
Seabury said the delay in voting will push the decision until late April. The panel’s final recommendation will be forwarded to Tara Taupier, superintendent of the Tamalpais Union High School District, for presentation to the board of trustees. The trustees will take the deciding vote on the new name.
Taupier, responding to several alumni speakers at Tuesday’s board of trustees meeting who demanded a communitywide vote on the new name, said the district was not authorized to conduct that type of referendum.
“We can’t do a ballot measure, like we do for a parcel tax or a bond measure,” she said.
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