Indian Country Today: Abolish the Racist Univ. of New Mexico Seal

Appeared in Indian Country Today April 22, 2016

Originally designed in 1910 by President Edward Dundas McQueen Gray, a Scottish immigrant who settled in New Mexico Territory in 1893, the seal represents what one alumni publication calls “two New Mexico founders, a Spanish conquistador and [an Anglo] frontiersman.” The back-to-back figures join other ostensibly innocent images, symbols, and rituals—the Lobo, the school colors: silver and cherry red, the singing of the Alma Mater, etc.—that make UNM a university. They are part of a brand, UNM’s institutional identity that also expresses certain values and history. According to the Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual, “A cohesive visual identity presents a sense of unity and builds awareness and pride among those connected to the University of New Mexico.” Yet, many see the two men, towering figures of genocide and conquest armed with the tools of conquest, as colonial gatekeepers safeguarding the university from the intrusion of Natives and diverse peoples.

Men bearing sword and musket personify just how order and civilization was achieved in the founding of New Mexico—through violence. Spanish colonization entailed the brutal rape, murder, enslavement, and torture of Natives at the hands of conquistadors such as Oñate and de Vargas. The expulsion of the Spanish from Pueblo homelands during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and their subsequent return were marked by extreme persecution and prejudice. Subsequent Mexican independence involved further persecution and oppression.

The conclusion of the U.S.-Mexican War and the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo revealed the true intentions of U.S. and Mexican colonial policy toward Natives. The U.S. violated almost every treaty article before the ink was dry. Both nations, however, upheld Article XI, which guarantees that “incursions” into either country on behalf of the “savage tribes” would be met with “equal” force.

U.S. occupation was equally, if not more, brutal and punishing than its predecessors. From forced marches and open air concentration camps for Navajo and Apache prisoners at Bosque Redondo, from Indian killers such as Kit Carson and William Tecumseh Sherman, to mass enclosures and privatization of Native lands, the early U.S. colonial period in New Mexico is replete with examples of genocide and dispossession. That history, like U.S. history in general, is one of profound violence.


8 thoughts on “Indian Country Today: Abolish the Racist Univ. of New Mexico Seal”

  1. That seal design is indeed racist since it shows a conquistador and a frontiersman, both of whom were involved in atrocities against the Navajo, Pueblo, and Apache on their ancestral lands. Before what is known as “New Mexico” became an official US Territory and State by means of conquest against Navajo, Pueblo, and Apache, the name “New Mexico”, the name for the Spanish colony, was adopted by Spanish settler colonialists who displaced the indigenous peoples long before American frontiersmen got involved. However, the term “New Mexico” was adopted by brutal conquistador Juan de Oñate in 1598 as the official colony name.

    As we know, Juan de Oñate was involved in the Acoma Massacre of 1599 against the Acoma Pueblo. Not to mention that he also amputated the feet of some of the Acoma people. What a travesty for this “New Mexico” to be founded upon the brutal conquest as well as dispossession of Navajo, Pueblo, and Apache from their ancestral lands. First by Spanish conquistadors, then by American frontiersmen. Even to this day, people of indigenous descent, including that of Navajo, Pueblo, Apache, and even Chicano descent remember the atrocious actions of Juan de Oñate.

    Hope that this has been well-explained to you.

  2. There is a monument of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate in so-called “Alcalde, NM” associated with the “Oñate Monument Center.” It is very clear that people of Navajo, Pueblo, Apache, and Chicano descent do not and did not consent to a monument of Juan de Oñate or any other European conqueror being erected on their ancestral lands.

  3. By the way, the so-called “Rio Grande” river is known as Posoge by the Tewa Pueblo. It is also known as Tooh Baʼáadii by the Navajo, Kótsoi by the Jicarilla Apache, Mets’ichi chena by the Keresan language, Paslápaane in the Tiwa language, and Hañapakwa in Towa.

  4. Other examples of settler colonialism in terms of defining Southwestern Indian cultures is the so-called “Mogollon culture” named after Don Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón. Instead, the so-called “Mogollon culture” should be referred to as the Paquime culture after the indigenous settlement of Paquime in northern Chihuahua.

  5. Originally, what is called “the Americas” is known as Ixachitlān in the Nahuatl language and Abya Yala in the Kuna language.

  6. The university should be renamed to reflect a more tribal heritage like Kulanui o Paquimeh. The seal should include the mountains known as Posu gai hoo-oo, Tsepe, Dził Nááyisí, Okupį, Kiutawe, and Chibiya Yalanne, which are the Southern Tiwa, Keres, Navajo, Tewa, Towa, and Zuni names of the mountains which settler colonialists renamed to “Sandia.”

    Note: Paquimeh is the name of a precolonial site in Chihuahua. Kulanui is the ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi name for “college” or “university.” The words “college” and “university” reflect a settler colonialist mindset of European supremacy (white supremacy) on ancestral tribal land. Of course European settler colonialism has been felt not only in all of Ixachitlān (aka Abya Yala), but also in Africa, Asia, and Ao o Kiwa (Oceania in Reo Māori).

  7. As mentioned earlier, the words “college” and “university” denote a settler colonialist mentality of European supremacy (white supremacy) on ancestral tribal grounds. Instead of saying “college” and “university”, we should say kulanui instead of “university” and kāreti instead of “college”. The word kulanui is the ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi word for “university”, and the word kāreti is the Reo Māori word for “college.” The word “seal”, as in emblem, not the pinniped, is known as O ka wepa in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi.

  8. The institution should be renamed to Paquimeh Daxue with the the mountains known as Posu gai hoo-oo, Tsepe, Dził Nááyisí, Okupį, Kiutawe, and Chibiya Yalanne on the seal. This would be a more neutral seal design, especially since the mountains given by those indigenous names are a natural landmark.

    Note: Daxue (大学) is the Chinese word for “university.”

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