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.