Education | Opinion

Jennifer Denetdale: University must stop celebrating genocide

Jennifer Denetdale. Photo from Dickinson College

Jennifer Denetdale, a member of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, explains why she supports the elimination of the seal of the University of New Mexico, her alma mater and employer:
The University of New Mexico has come under criticism once again for its claims that it is a Native serving institution, and this time by Native students and their allies who regard the seal that the university uses to promote its institution as a symbol of colonial oppression and genocide against Native nations and people. The seal features a Spanish conquistador and an American frontiersman standing back to back as a symbol of the history of the state and the university.

Native students and their allies insist that the symbol perpetuates stereotypes of Native peoples as always disappeared and not worthy of mention since the conquest of Indigenous peoples by the Spaniards in 1693. And, of course we have the American occupation of the Southwest beginning in 1846 to the present. Contrary to the message that the symbol conveys, the university established in 1899, has made its reputation upon research founded upon Indigenous peoples and cultures. Schools, departments, and programs drew researchers, scholars, and students to the region to bring the Southwest into the American academy which heavily hinged upon the study of Indigenous peoples.

. . .

The UNM symbol that celebrates its Hispanic and American frontier history was crafted in the era when the U.S. was in turmoil over civil rights, gender inequalities, and Indigenous rights. It is a relic of the past that does not acknowledge the presence of Indigenous peoples, of our quest and struggles to attain sovereignty and self-determination even as we are continually undermined by the U.S. and its refusal to acknowledge that it exists because Indigenous people gave up lands, resources, and lives so that its form of democracy could flourish. It is time for the University of New Mexico to take a step in the right direction, to acknowledge that it exists at the expense of Indigenous peoples, and to cease celebrating a history of genocide against Indigenous peoples. Abolishing the UNM seal is one step towards UNM addressing structural inequalities that Native students and faculty face every day in New Mexico.

Get the Story:
Jennifer Denetdale: The Univ. of New Mexico Seal Is Irrelevant to Reality (Indian Country Today 4/27)

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Nick Estes: Abolish university's symbol of racism and colonialism (4/22)

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