The Racist Seal Controversy: What do the UNM Kiva Club and the Red Nation Want?

A movement initiated by the Kiva Club, the chartered University of New Mexico Native American students’ organization, and The Red Nation, a Southwestern Native activist organization founded in 2014, has been getting a lot of attention in Albuquerque and New Mexico lately.

Most of the media coverage has zoomed in on the groups’ demand that UNM dispose of its official seal that shows an Anglo frontiersman and a Spanish conquistador, historical figures the Kiva Club and the Red Nation regard as symbolic of the racist, violent conquest and colonization of the Indigenous Southwest borderlands.

But less well covered in the media have been 11 other demands that the two groups are putting on the table.

On Friday, April 29, the Kiva Club, The Red Nation and supporters converged on UNM administration headquarters with their list of demands and copies of the controversial seal, which were burned outside Scholes Hall. UNM President Robert Frank briefly spoke with the protesters, but the encounter ended with the group not satisfied with the university chief’s response, Leoyla Cowboy, Kiva Club/Red Nation member, told FNS.

Frank, however, may have spent the weekend thinking about Indigenous matters.

In his weekly e-mail sent to the university community Monday, May, 2 Frank did not mention the preceding Friday’s protest but praised last weekend’s annual Nizhoni Days celebration long organized by the Kiva Club, and mentioned a Native American student who had just received a scholarship from the Udall Foundation.

By the evening of May 2, Frank was sending out messages on his Twitter account addressing the seal controversy. Reprinted in the New Mexico Daily Lobo, Frank posed a question:  “Native Americans have expressed concerns with our seal. What would be a better seal?”

On Tuesday, May 3, an e-mail sent on behalf of the UNM Office of the Provost invited comment on the seal and directed readers to a SurveyMonkey site, which lo and behold was not functioning. A message on the site read that the survey had been “temporarily suspended in order to devise a more reliable instrument to further continue the conversation. We will develop other forums to solicit the views of faculty, staff, and students.”

Also on May 3, Cowboy informed FNS that Frank’s initial position that the Native community’s demands would be taken up by the Provost’s office next fall had changed, with the Academic and Student Affairs Research Committee of the UNM Board of Regents now scheduled to take public comment on the issue at a meeting in the Roberts Room of Scholes Hall beginning at 1:00 pm on Thursday, May 5. Regent Lt. General Bradley C. Hosmer and Provost Chaouki Abdallah are expected to be in attendance.

Cowboy urged citizens, whatever their opinions, to show up and make their voices heard. So far, public response to the controversy has been keen and supportive, she said.

“It’s amazing. I get so many people on a daily basis coming up to me because they’ve seen me on TV or on social media,” Cowboy added.

The UNM activist stressed that the movement’s full list of demands and grievances, which include the campus presence of “dehumanizing murals and artwork,” the return of Indigenous remains and sacred items, and UNM’s genuine commitment to Native American scholars and students, among others, are not new ones.

“The demands are there. Whether they choose to treat them or not they’re there. They’re issues that have been there for hundreds of years,” Cowboy said. “This is a larger issue. It’s not just the seal. This is something I have to walk by on a daily basis as an Indigenous scholar….this is about our livelihood as Indigenous people. We have a relationship to the land people have no idea about.”

As a kind of alternative student orientation to New Mexico’s largest public university, Cowboy said activists are planning their second annual “racist tour Of UNM” for next semester, an event aimed at giving participants a different visual and analytical perspective of the Albuquerque campus.

In the interest of furthering public debate on defining issues for New Mexico, Frontera NorteSur has decided to publish below the entire list of the Kiva Club/The Red Nation demands, which mostly have received scant attention in other media, as well as a letter addressed to UNM President Frank and the UNM Board of Regents that is currently in circulation.

It is FNS’ firm conviction that issues of such deep meaning can only be fairly addressed when all the complex dimensions and threads are known by the public. Let the reader digest, reflect and decide.

To the UNM President and Board of Regents:

We support the University of New Mexico (UNM) KIVA Club and The Red Nation’s campaign to abolish the official institutional seal of UNM and the students’ eleven demands (see below). The seal depicts a frontiersman and conquistador and, thus, celebrates the Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. genocide, conquest, dispossession, rape, torture, and enslavement of the original Indigenous Peoples of this land: the Pueblos of Acoma, Taos, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Tesuque, San Felipe, Jemez, Zuni, Zia, Nambe, Picuris, Ohkay Owingeh, Santo Domingo, Laguna, Isleta, Santa Ana, Sandia, Cochiti, and Pojoaque; the Navajo Nation; the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the Mescalero Apache Tribe; the Southern Utes; and the Comanches. None of these diverse Nations are represented in the seal, nor is there acknowledgement within the institution that UNM campus sits atop the unceded lands of Pueblo of Sandia.

Originally designed in the 1910’s by UNM President Edward Dundas McQueen Gray, a Scottish immigrant who settled in New Mexico in 1893, the seal has undergone several iterations, all of which were created without the input or consideration of Indigenous Peoples. The current seal was officially adopted in 1968, as an adaption of McQueen’s original. The two manifestations in the past century have not addressed the main overarching issues that the two men, agents of conquest, the conquistador and the frontiersman, stand as armed colonial gatekeepers. Both represent systems that have inflicted immeasurable violence, loss, death, and destruction upon Indigenous peoples. There is nothing redeeming, honorable, respectful, accurate, humane, or culturally appropriate about the seal. While violence and conquest are thought of as things of the past, they inform present inequalities at UNM and do not deserve celebration.

Due to these ongoing effects of colonialism, it is essential that UNM students, faculty, staff, and community stand for Indigenous self-determination, liberation, and sovereignty. To achieve justice, we support the following eleven demands:

1. Reconstruction of a Native Cultural Center
Where Dane Smith Hall stands today, there once stood a building that housed ethnic resource centers such as American Indian Student services (AISS), African American Student Services, Hispanic Student Services (currently El Centro De La Raza) etc. After it was demolished all the resource centers were relocated to Mesa Vista Hall. The relocation of AISS brought forth protests fronted by Kiva Club and other student orgs. There was a call to rebuild the student resource centers, and UNM responded with the intent to do so. Currently no efforts to reconstruct the student resource centers outside Mesa Vista Hall have been made.

2. More Native Faculty and Faculty of Color at the Administrative Level
Native faculty and faculty of color are presently and historically underrepresented in the upper echelons of the University administration. Having diverse leadership at the Regent’s, University, and department level is necessary because while one’s identity doesn’t necessarily guarantee particular politics, those who are subjected to racism, sexism, and colonial violence are more likely to recognize and intervene in those dynamics and better advocate for change.  Lack of Native representation at the higher administrative level in a school with a high Native student population further marginalizes and works towards the disappearance of Native peoples.

3. A Cluster Hire for Native Studies Faculty
A cluster hire involves hiring multiple scholars. We are asking for a cluster hire of Native American Studies faculty to be housed in Native American Studies and other complimentary departments and programs like Women’s Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, History, etc. in order to promote interdisciplinary research that centers Native liberation. A cluster hire is a way to advance faculty diversity, help foster a shift in the anti-Indian culture of the University, and create a critical mass of scholars that can promote institutional change across fields. For more on cluster hires see:

4. Higher Education Council of Tribal Leaders Established at the Board of Regents Level
We demand the formation of a higher education council of Tribal leaders, which would consist of selected leadership from the Tribes. This would give New Mexico Tribes a voice in how UNM policy affects their citizens attending and working at the University, as well as a decisive role in how Tribal scholarship money is spent and allocated, currently the University does not track the monies that is processed from tribal nations that support students and the University, nor does it identify the self-determination status of tribal nations.  A council of Tribal leaders would allow for an anti-colonial approach in the way policy affecting Native Students is implemented. This contributes to the goal of a restructuring of UNM’s administration in a way that denounces ongoing racism and imperialism.

5. Formal Adoption of the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as UNM Policy
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is designed to recognize the sovereignty and self-determination of Indigenous peoples across the world. Indigenous peoples have been erased from history and are not adequately acknowledged at UNM. New Mexico has 22 federally recognized tribes and over 200 tribes located in the state. The University also has a high number of Native students. When the Associated Student of UNM (ASUNM) passed resolution 7S calling for the recognition of “Indigenous Peoples Day of Resistance and Resilience,” UNDRIP was included as a demand demonstrating student support. UNDRIP is a formal recognition of Indigenous rights as distinct from, yet informed by, internationally recognized universal human rights.

The following UNDRIP articles specifically apply to UNM:

Article 2: “Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity.

Article 3: “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

Article 4: “Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the
right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to 4.Resolution 217 A (III). 5 their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.”

6. Abolition of Racist Imagery and Cultural Appropriation
The Board of Regents policy of Historic Preservation states that all buildings, landscapes and places or objects of historic significance be preserved and protected.” However, the racist imagery and cultural appropriation of art and objects uphold and celebrate conquest and genocide across campus. Symbolic violence translates into material violence, reinforcing an atmosphere that can make Native students feel unsafe and isolated in their homelands.

For example, the “Pueblo Revival” design implies there was in fact a death or decline in Pueblo culture that needs revival. It is inappropriate that Pueblo architecture is adorned with the names of conquistadors who brutally murdered, tortured, raped, and enslaved of Natives. The University also displays many dehumanizing murals and artwork. Examples exist in Zimmerman Library, especially in the West Wing. The University also displays sacred objects such as the Kachina Dolls on the third floor of the SUB.

7. Tuition Waiver for Students from Federally Recognized Tribes
Fort Lewis College, located in Southern Colorado, was once a federal off-reservation boarding school. In 1911, it was turned into a state high school and the deed from the federal government to the state government for the new high school came with two conditions: the land would remain as an educational institution and was “‘to be maintained as an institution of learning to which Indian students will be admitted free of tuition and on an equality with white students.'” (Act of 61st Congress, 1911). These conditions have been honored as a part of the Fort Lewis school mission statement over the past century. The tuition waiver was put in place in order to establish ownership of the land and buildings. Today over 1,000 Native students attend Fort Lewis, or 27% of the student body. These students represent 146 federally recognized tribes in the US and 46 states. Students from New Mexico utilize the greatest amount of tuition waivers.

The following private and public colleges and universities have tuition waivers for Native students from either state or federally recognized tribes: University of Maine, Massachusetts University, Michigan Haskell Indian Nations University, Montana University System, University of Minnesota, and North Dakota State Universities and Colleges.

8. Permanent Funding and Space Allocation for Nizhoni Days Powwow
The Nizhoni Days Pow-wow is New Mexico’s oldest running Pow-wow, pre-dating and even inspiring the “World’s Largest Pow-wow” of the Gathering of Nations Pow-wow. Since 1955, Nizhoni Days Pow-wow honors a community-based celebration that showcases and promotes Native culture and identity through dance, singing, and drumming exhibitions, and vendor arts and crafts market. Upholding the foundational tenet of traditional pow-wow community-oriented custom, the Nizhoni Days Pow-wow is an inclusive, free all-day event, featuring a no-contest pow-wow, and community dinner that is offered free-of-charge to all visitors and participants. It is with heartfelt passion and excitement that we continue this beautiful ceremonial legacy for our community at the University’s Johnson Field. The Nizhoni Days Pow-wow is run entirely by donation, and every year since its founding, Kiva Club must request appropriations from ASUNM and undergo the process of reserving Johnson field and a back up space on campus. We demand that the Nizhoni Days Pow-wow have permanent funding and a permanent space allocation at Johnson field and an indoor space to allow a venue of 1,000 people.

9. Recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day of Resistance and Resilience
In Spring 2015, students called for and wrote an “Indigenous Peoples Day of Resistance and Resilience” resolution in order to combat glorification of settler colonialism at the University campus. This resolution was unanimously supported by the ASUNM senators and had enormous support from the student body. Despite the resolution being forwarded to the Board of Regents, they made no public acknowledgement of it nor did they use their power to officially establish Indigenous Peoples Day of Resistance and Resilience on University calendars. This refusal to recognize and implement the demands of the resolution looked absurd when that same year the City of Albuquerque passed a similar resolution at the city level.

10. Recognition and Tracking of American Indian Political Identity According to Federal Standards
American Indian is not a racial identity, but a federally recognized political identity and should be tracked as such (when) Native students, faculty, staff, and employees are tracked statistically, the numbers are artificially lower because Native is seen as a racial or ethnic group. Additionally, when Native people are classified as a racial group, they are subjected to civil rights law which has and continues to deny and interrupt the particular political demands of decolonization. Native is better understood as a political status and should be tracked as such to allow more accurate understandings of representation of Native populations at the University.

11. Repatriation of Ancestors and Sacred Items to Sacred Spaces and Tribes
The existence of the Maxwell Museum and the Hibben Center was made possible through the unethical sourcing and extraction of Native sacred items and ancestors. Our ancestors are not artifacts nor are our ceremonial materials. A large amount of the university’s collection is made up of items, materials, and ancestors taken without consent from various tribes and sacred sites such as Chaco Canyon, much of which took place before the passing of the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. After this act passed the University has yet to acknowledge this act or return sacred materials.


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