UNM to replace Spanish ‘Conquistador’ on official seal after complaints of ‘symbolic violence’

  • The University of New Mexico is accepting design submissions for a new seal after a petition demand for it to “abolish” its “racist seal” that depicted a Spanish Conquistador.
  • Other petition demands included the removal of campus murals and other imagery and waived tuition for Native American students.

Years after an activist group demanded that the University of New Mexico “abolish” its “racist seal” that depicted a Spanish Conquistador, the university is accepting design submissions for a new seal. 

In 2016, A Native American activist group co-founded by a UNM professor pressured the university to change the seal, submitting a list of demands to the university including the removal of Spanish Conquistador imagery from the university seal and the dismantling of the school's collection of Native artifacts.

"This country has not acknowledged its legacy with indigenous genocide"   

University of New Mexico American Studies professor Nick Estes is the co-founder of The Red Nation, a local activist organization that describes itself as being "anti-imperialism," and aims to "reclaim Albuquerque as an Indigenous space."

Coinciding with a statewide effort to remove conquistador imagery from state facilities, as reported by The Journal, the group previously hosted a petition to remove both the conquistador and the "white frontiersman" from the official seal of the University of New Mexico. The group noted that these images are "an obvious reference to the violent settling of the area," which supposedly "continues to make a mockery of [UNM’s] Native students and the surrounding Native community."

[RELATED: Here’s why Native American students will soon pay half as much at UIC]

University of New Mexico’s Division of Equity and Inclusion has now finally developed a submission process that “encompasses” the “distinctive attributes” of the university’s identity such as its “traditions, culture, and aspirations for the future.”

Submissions must “not contain cultural, symbolic or protected images without the express written permission of the impacted parties.”

In addition to calls to "abolish UNM's racist seal," Estes' group presented the university with a list of several other demands, including the rebuilding of a campus Native Cultural Center, more Native American faculty and minority administrators, and a Tribal Leaders council "at the Board of Regents level.” This initiative would supposedly "allow for an anti-colonial approach in the way policy affecting Native students is implemented,” which would apparently lend itself toward "restructuring" the university's administration "in a way that denounces ongoing racism and imperialism."

The Red Nation’s petition closed with 685 signatories.

[RELATED: Maine becomes first state to BAN Native American mascots]

The group also demanded that the university perform a "cluster hire" of faculty to be housed in the Native American studies department, "and other compl[i]mentary departments," that would supposedly "promote interdisciplinary research that centers Native liberation." This demand is meant to "foster a shift in the anti-Indian culture of the University."

Demands also included the university's "abolition of racist imagery & cultural appropriation." Certain types of imagery featured in murals and historic references around campus supposedly "uphold and celebrate conquest and genocide." This, the group says, is "symbolic violence," which "translates into material violence, reinforcing at atmosphere that can make Native students feel unsafe and isolated in their homelands."

The Red Nation also demanded that tuition be waived for students representing federally recognized indigenous tribes and that the university fund and facilitate an annual pow-wow for up to 1,000 people. It also takes issue with museum space on campus that displays Native artifacts. The group asserts that this collection of artifacts "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," insisted the group, calling for the items to be returned. 

In a statement to The Journal, Estes said he believes that the current struggle of Native Americans to get leaders to cease celebratory references to the settlement of the area is worse than the American South's controversy over Confederate monuments. 

“At least there’s an acknowledgment of this country’s legacy with slavery. This country has not acknowledged its legacy with indigenous genocide,” he said.

[RELATED: U Oregon students demand removal of pioneer statue]

Estes recently encouraged UNM community members to #shutdownthecamps on Columbus Day, or "Indigenous Peoples' Day," in order to "stop the war on indigenous people, immigrants & refugees."

He also recently suggested that the American opioid crisis could be solved if the country were to "give the land back to indigenous people.”

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Policy and Economic Development – Indian Affairs and New Mexico State University business professor Gavin Clarkson told Campus Reform that the debate surrounding the seal can be related to conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer’s rationale for changing the name of the Washington Redskins, noting Krauthammer’s assertion that “words don’t stand still. They evolve.”

“The same could be said about symbols,” Clarkson said.

“Krauthammer's rationale against the Washington football team's name wasn't ‘who or how many had their feelings hurt,’ but ‘simple decency,’ Clarkson explained, adding that it is “reasonable to assume that the pile of human bones underneath the foot of the conquistador is the only Native American depicted on the seal, and that imagery certainly goes beyond the boundaries of ‘simple decency.’”

Although Clarkson told Campus Reform that he is supportive of changing the seal, he said that doing so will do little to actually help the indigenous people of New Mexico, noting that it “will not provide anything to tribal economies in New Mexico that have been mired in decades of poverty at the hands of the oppressive regulatory regime imposed by both the federal and state government.”

Clarkson called demands to clear the campus of all “racist imagery & cultural appropriation” “nebulous,” and suggested “applying the Krauthammer rule on a case-by-case basis” for future consideration of on-campus imagery.  He called the demand to return artifacts “entirely appropriate,” however, noting that “since we don’t allow [archaeologists] to dig through Arlington National Cemetery, it should be equally obvious that tribal remains and funerary objects should be returned to a tribe upon request.”

Clarkson also supports tuition waivers for Native Americans, calling the cost of such a waiver “marginal.”

“As a member of the Trump Administration and now as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, I have called for tuition waivers for members of federally recognized tribes in states where the state extracts gaming compact payments," Clarkson told Campus Reform. "New Mexico gets $90 million from the tribes, yet I have had tribal students drop out of college because they couldn't come up with $250 dollars."

He emphasizes, however, that he hopes those who receive such a waiver will “study something useful (STEM or business) rather than wasting their time on ‘Native Studies.’"

Campus Reform reached out to UNM to ask if it has any plans to address the rest of the group’s demands, but the school did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @celinedryan



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Celine Ryan
Celine Ryan | Investigative Reporter

Celine Ryan is the Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform, reporting on liberal bias and abuse on campus for Campus Reform. Celine was previously a New Hampshire California Senior Campus Correspondent for Campus Reform.

20 Articles by Celine Ryan