Monday, 22 April 2024

Field: Arguing about a name makes us all look bad

When I first started farming in the early 1990s I searched for a name for my operation that I felt gave respect to the people who lived here before I did.

I looked through the Pomo dictionary written by local historian Henry Mauldin and learned that the big valley surrounding present-day Kelseyville where our family orchards were planted had been called “Yoxagoi.”

I filed all the forms to create “Yoxagoi Orchards.”

It was difficult for English and Spanish-speakers alike. After about a decade, I abandoned it for “Crail Field Farms,” which included the names of my children and my ancestors alike — and required less paperwork.

But I learned about the naming of things.

Nobody knew. Not one person ever told me they recognized the word “Yoxagoi.” Not only that but when I went to the store and told the cashier to put my purchase on my account, a difficult and unnecessary exchange always ensued.

Nobody could spell it. Nobody ever said they liked it. And certainly no one could pronounce it. I don't know if anyone alive today knows how to pronounce it.

Now, everyone knows “Kelseyville” as Kelseyville. If we were to change the name back to the native name of the place, it would become “Yoxagoi.”

I have first hand experience with this. It is not a good idea.

Why would we change the name? A few people have expressed they are hurt by the perceived respect it offers a man named Andrew Kelsey who has absolutely no respect in the community.

Not one person has stated that we should retain the name of Kelseyville out of respect for the rapist and murderer who preceded the current population. Not one.

But changing a name would be a victory for those groups, mainly the somewhat ironically named “Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians,” who have for eight to 10 generations coexisted with descendants of immigrant Europeans and others.

My question is why not, as the past Lake County museum curator suggested, simply change the narrative?

In that option honor is given to another Kelsey — C.E. Kelsey, who in the early 1900s served as secretary of the Northern California Indian Association and, in that capacity, crusaded for the rights of California tribes. He successfully lobbied Congress to create rancherias for non-reservation tribes. He also served as a special agent to the region’s Indian Office, advocating for tribes including those in Lake County.

No one would have to change the name of their business, no one would be honoring a horrible person, no one would lose decades of branding invested by community leaders. And nobody would have reason to feel hurt.

We could furthermore rectify things by creating art in public places that honors the history. I personally would like a statue of the little girl who survived the Bloody Island massacre by submerging herself in the lake and breathing through a reed.

The divisiveness created by arguing about a name makes us all look bad.

Maile Field lives in Kelseyville, California.

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