Native American students in the Kiva Club at the University of New Mexico are calling the institution’s seal, which depicts a Spanish conquistador and a frontiersman, offensive and racist. The seal is stamped on all diplomas and is featured at most school events.
The Kiva Club, along with a local leadership group called Red Nation, claim the seal endorses colonialism. The University of New Mexico is a public institution with more than 27,000 students. It first adopted the seal in 1969; the emblem was based on the designs of a former university president, Edward Dundas McQueen Gray, an Englishman. Today, about 10% of New Mexico’s population identifies as American Indian or Alaska Native, according to census data.
The doctoral student leading the protest, Nick Estes, has unveiled a redesigned seal that depicts the conquistador and frontiersman standing atop bones with a message that reads: “What Indians?” in stark red letters. The redesign is to be interpreted as part of the protest against the official seal.
“I saw it, and I was like, ‘Is this really true,” Nick Estes said of the university’s emblem. “This is my interpretation of what that actually means. I actually couldn’t believe it. I didn’t actually think this was a real thing that the University of Mexico would be doing. How can we even begin to have the conversation of structural inequalities if you have dehumanizing imagery of us?”
Reportedly, conversation about the seal has spread into other student groups. For example, as Chris Quintana of the Albuquerque Journal writes,Cheyenne Trujillo, who is the president of Chicano/a Studies Student Organization, says her group is currently debating the seal and may support its removal.
According to Julia Glum of the International Business Times, more than 100 people have signed an online petition demanding the seal replaced, arguing that other schools across the country have spent years removing Confederate imagery in response to students concerns. The protesters also want the University of New Mexico to build a Native American cultural center and have more Native American representation on its board of regents.
The students’ concerns have not been dismissed. The Washington Times reports that the university’s diversity council are working with the concerned students to resolve the issue. Additionally, ABC News reports that the university president, Bob Frank, while defending the seal as a familiar logo of the University, is also open to discussing the students grievances.
“This is a university,” said Jozi de Leon, a representative for equity and inclusion on campus. “This is a place where we should be having this kind of dialogue. We should be open to listening to the concerns of the students.”
This incident over controversial imagery of conquistadors and colonialism at the University of New Mexico is not an isolated one. Last year, people protested the Fiestas de Santa Fe, a historical re-enactment that features Don Diego de Vargas reclaiming the city of Santa Fe after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Protesters claimed the fiesta ignores the bloodied history between Spanish colonists and Native Americans.