The street name Indio Muerto, or “Dead Indian,” has long faced scrupulous criticism. Community members at Tuesday evening’s meeting at the Franklin Center recall efforts dating back to the 1980s to have the street name changed. Now, the community has assembled once again to try and change the name. The meeting, organized for the sole purpose of discussing the future of Indio Muerto, drew around 40 people, including city councilmembers Jason Dominguez and Oscar Gutierrez.
This last year the street sign has been the target of ongoing vandalism. The street sign is often torn down or plastered with stickers, made to read “Indio Vivo” (Indian Alive) or “Indio Poderoso” (powerful Indian). The name Indio Muerto allegedly stemmed from Captain Salisbury Haley’s 1850 survey of the town when a dead Chumash man was found near the street, which runs from Salinas to the 101 and from the 101 to Milpas Street. Attendees offered different origin stories for the street name. Fidel Rodriguez shared that during his research he read that,”Indio Muerto was named after the Wot [Chief] of that village was killed and buried there.” Jimmy Joe Navarro, who grew up in the area, remembers a Chumash elder warning him to stay away from alcohol because the “dead Indian” died from being heavily intoxicated.
Regardless of the name origin, all but one member attending the meeting agreed the societal interpretation of the name is dehumanizing and disrespectful of human and indigenous rights. The name is often linked with the phrase “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” “If the street were ‘Dead Jew Street,’ would we stand for it?” asked Rodriguez.
The group decided to move forward with a name change for the street by writing a letter to City Administrator Paul Casey, the first step of what will likely be a six-eight month process. The community group did their homework and presented the city’s principles, policies, and priorities for naming public facilities. Policy F reads, “[N]ames with connotations which by contemporary community standards are derogatory or offensive shall not be considered,” a policy that is currently being violated. The group is considering Tomol, Paxat, and Hutash as potential names for the street — all Chumash words meaning, respectively, canoe, whale, and the Earth Mother. “This is our own gentrification,” said Andy Garcia, “this is how we plan to revitalize our own community.”
Editor’s Note: The article was corrected October 2, 2018 with the date of the 1850 survey, when allegedly the deceased Chumash man was found. The date previously reported was 1884. The article was also corrected to clarify Fidel Rodriguez shared that, “Indio Muerto was named after the Wot [Chief] of that village was killed and buried there.” Prior to the correction, the article read that Rodriguez claimed the name was assigned after settlers killed the Native American Chief of the area, Yanonali.