Street sign for Indio Muerto and Canada streets in Santa Barbara.
The street name Indio Muerto, which means dead Indian in Spanish, is likely to be changed by the Santa Barbara City Council. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The street name “Indio Muerto” appears to be on death’s door.

The Barbareño Chumash Tribal Council is calling on the city of Santa Barbara to drop the Eastside street name, calling it “insulting, offensive and demeaning.”

In Spanish, Indio Muerto means “Dead Indian.”

The Neighborhood Advisory Council voted 10-0 on Monday night to remove Indio Muerto and replace it with Hutash St., which means “Mother Earth,” in the Chumash language. 

The panel’s recommendation will now go before the City Council 

“To me, dead Indian street is like a dehumanizing commercial broadcasting every day, a direct message that says ‘you don’t exist and don’t matter,’ right into your subconscious, and the reality is that everyone is subjected to this inhumane symbol that Indian lives don’t matter,” said Fidel Rodriguez, who was born and raised in Santa Barbara. 

He holds two degrees from USC — in American studies and Chicano and African-American history.

Growing up in Santa Barbara, he became familiar with the Indio Muerto name. 

“I passed that symbol hundreds of times in my life, completely unconscious of its subversive and overt meaning, and completely unaware of the impact it had on my life,” Rodriguez said. “The psychological effects of a symbol that represents a well-documented genocide is devastating to a person of Native-American ancestry. I know this first hand.”

Salisbury Haley in 1851 gave the street its name after he found the remains of a deceased Indian while conducting a street survey. 

About nine signs would have to be replaced if the city changes the street name.

The members of the advisory council supported the change, but raised questions about what the potential financial cost would be to residents or businesses that might have to change their government documents or business materials.

Committee member Mark Alvarado said he is among those who plans to raise money and work with local foundations to help offset the cost residents might incur if the name of the street changes. 

“We are working very closely not just with the Fund for Santa Barbara, but with other financial institutions that would be supportive in developing a program what would work with residents in a bilingual manner to help ensure that we could help cover those costs,” Alvarado said. “We’re confident we can address that immediately.”

Speaker Chelsea Lancaster is on the board for the Fund for Santa Barbara. She also runs the nonprofit El Centro, and is an organizer who stands in solidarity with the local Chumash community.

“We will come up with the money because the people in this community who are under-resourced always find a way because we know this is the right thing to do,” Lancaster said. “The financial implications will not outweigh the moral implications.

“We have the opportunity to stand on the right side of history. We’re lucky that our Chumash folks are just asking for a street name change and not rematriation of their land.”

Frank Rodriguez spoke at the meeting. He grew up on the Eastside.

“We need to make sure we have a community for individuals who enter our community and that are part of our community to feel that they are safe,” Rodriguez said. “People do not feel safe when you have these words that are loaded with colonial, with historically racist connotations.”

Eric Cardenas is a 25-year-resident of Santa Barbara. He owns a business on East Haley Street. 

“I want to say ‘shame on us,’” Cardenas said. “Shame on us for letting this name live on as long as it has. It’s tragic, it’s painful, it hurts the spirit.”

Fidel Rodriguez said there’s no denying that it is time to change the name. 

“Given the new era that we are in now, isn’t it time to change dead Indian street, and truly honor, dignify and bring justice, at least symbolically, to the Chumash and the hundreds of indigenous nations throughout the continent?” he asked. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.