UNM Kiva Club Leader On Years Of Resistance To Racist Imagery On Campus

Oct 20, 2020

The University of New Mexico Board of Regents is expected to vote on Wednesday, Oct. 20 on a new official seal design. The move follows many years of campaigning by students and faculty with the UNM Kiva Club and the Red Nation, who say the old seal, depicting a frontiersman and a conquistador, celebrates genocide and conquest. But the old seal is far more the only symbol at UNM that reflects racism against Indigenous people, says Alysia Coriz, a Native American Studies major and co-president of the Kiva Club. She spoke with KUNM earlier this year about how she would like to see the university address other instances of racist imagery on campus, including places named after violent colonizers. 

ALYSIA CORIZ: That includes the namings of buildings which are, De Vargas Hall, Coronado Hall, [and] Onate Hall. And there's also the current Adams Mural that is located in Zimmerman Library, as well as the La Estufa building that's located on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and University, which is actually a representation of a Pueblo kiva, which is a sacred symbol for Pueblo peoples. 

Modeled after a Pueblo kiva, the Estufa building on UNM campus has been used as a members-only Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity meeting location since 1915.

And currently, that - La Estufa or the kiva - is actually utilized by a fraternity on campus, and however, as a Pueblo person, that worries me for just an appropriation of something that is so sacred to our community. 

KUNM: How do you think the presence of colonial and racist symbols on campus are affecting Native American students, and do you feel like campus life is inclusive to you?

CORIZ: Well, with the presence of conquistadors on our campus, I will not deny that is part of New Mexico history. However, the celebration of conquerors amongst other students of color is problematic because this is where we come from our communities to lean and education ourseleves in order help our communities. And we have our own history, which includes the Pueblo Revolt [of 1680] and just years and years of history of resistance. And for the campus climate, it would be beneficial to see more of our educated Native American community memebrs to be provided spaces for them to educate others and inspire the future generation of leaders. 

KUNM: What changes do you think need to be made immediately?

CORIZ: You know, I understand that UNM is a, you know, minority-serving institution and there are celebrations of histories and cultures, and I think UNM is unique in that we provide the diversity between all of us. And I think in order to move forward beyond this we have to have conversations that are beneficial for everyone. Whether that is acknowledging the true history of New Mexico and of Indigenous people and of Chicano folks as well. However, it shouldn't be derogatory towards another community or culture. I guess, just kind of moving forward and acknowledging that you know, our lived experiences are our own and no one can really negate that fact because, you know, this is our history, this is what is passed down from generation to generation.

And so that's kind of where these demands come into play in order to make sure that our students have a beneficial foundation and are adquately supported. You know, like, for example, having a cluster hire of Native American faculty, faculty of color, and as well as our reconstruction of a Native Cultural Center, just to benefically support the initiatives and needs of our students. 

KUNM: In the instance of renaming buildings, what suggestions do you have? 

CORIZ: For recommendations, I believe since UNM is sitting on Pueblo lands, especially Sandia and Isleta Pueblo lands, it would be, you know, a reminder to have potential positive Indigenous representaion on our campus and as well as to have a recognition that goes beyond a land acknowledgement. So, it's just kind of putting you know words into action and this has been the history of the movement and we've spent so much time on this advocating, this is, what, going on five years for these changes to be enacted so that's kinda of where we're at. Why do we need to continue this campaign when it could have just been done or taken seriously at the beginning?

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The 11 demands of the Kiva Club and the Red Nation (as detailed in this 2016 article):

  1. Reconstruction of a Native Cultural Center
  2. More Native Faculty and Faculty of Color at the Administrative Level
  3. A Cluster Hire for Native Studies Faculty
  4. Higher Education Council of Tribal Leaders Established at the Board of Regents Level
  5. Formal Adoption of the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as UNM Policy
  6. Abolition of Racist Imagery and Cultural Appropriation
  7. Tuition Waiver for Students from Federally Recognized Tribes
  8. Permanent Funding and Space Allocation for Nizhoni Days Powwow
  9. Recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day of Resistance and Resilience
  10. Recognition and Tracking of American Indian Political Identity According to Federal Standards
  11. Repatriation of Ancestors and Sacred Items to Sacred Spaces and Tribes

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Editor's note 10/21, 3p: A previous version of this web post featured an image of the Oñate Hall sign overwritten with red spray paint to say "Oñate was a murderer" in June 2020. The photo was replaced because we didn't want to mistakenly imply that any of the activists mentioned in this article were involved in that act of graffiti.