Message #22:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Not Possible To Commemorate History Or Honor Anything
Date:	Sun, 18 Jan 1998 12:52:06 -0700

[ AzTeC / SWA SASIG ] :

From: Maurice Brill 
Subject: Political Correctness

There is a very insightful article in the Santa Fe New Mexican
as a result of the chopping off of Onate's foot on his statue
by the Acoma Indians. The article is for January 11, 1998. The
very same problem is reflected in the Squaw Peak nonsense.

Hero or villain: How should we remember Don Juan de Oņate?
As New Mexico commemorates its 400th anniversary, some historians
wonder if political correctness is dividing our state

The New Mexican

The recent vandalism of a bronze sculpture of conquistador
Don Juan de Oņate at a public visitors center north of Espaņola
was just another reminder that few of those we honor come
without some sinister baggage. 

Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson and Kit Carson are just
a few members in a growing pantheon of historical figures who
have been cast in unfavorable light by revisionist historians. 

Does that mean we shouldn't honor them?

As New Mexicans this year celebrate the cuartocentenario,
the 400th anniversary of Oņate's arrival here, the question is
especially acute. Because while no Indian groups have claimed
credit for sawing off the right foot of the Oņate sculpture, the
act illustrates how differently many Indians, Hispanics and other
New Mexicans view their common regional history. 

"It's time to remember there are two stories to every conquest,"
Navajo Nation president Albert Hale wrote in a letter to The New
Mexican last week. "Until now, only one story has been told. This
year, it is time to tell the other story."

The issue of sensitivity regarding historical figures has popped
in and out of the national spotlight over the years. In 1992, the
celebration of the quincentennial of Christopher Columbus' arrival
in the new world was marked by indignation from many Indian leaders,
who said Indians celebrating Columbus was the equivalent of Jews
commemorating Hitler. 

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence,
has been criticized for his ownership of slaves and trysts with
slave women. Kit Carson has been both celebrated for his bravery
and reviled for his military campaign against the Navajo Nation.

And more recently, New Orleans gained national attention when,
keeping with a policy of dropping slave-owners' names from public
schools, the city changed the name of George Washington Elementary
to Dr. Charles Richard Drew Elementary, after the black surgeon
who pioneered blood plasma preservation. 

"We're riding a trend of pan-Indianism," said historian Tom Chávez,
director of the Palace of the Governors museum in Santa Fe. "We're
suffering the fallout of political correctness and the ethnic
chauvinism of the '60s, And in my mind, rather than allowing us to
take a look back clearly, these things are tending to divide

New Mexico historian Marc Simmons agrees.

"Given the nature of sensitivity, it's not possible to commemorate
anybody in history or honor anything," said Simmons, who has written
a biography of Oņate, the man who colonized New Mexico for Spain in
1598 and became its first governor. "You could only honor angels,
and there are no angels." 

For Simmons, dishonoring the father of our nation by removing his
name from an elementary school was no less a disservice than the
defacing - or in this case defooting - of the man he calls the
"Father of New Mexico." 

"(Oņate) was the George Washington of New Mexico," Simmons said.
"It was because of him and his courage and his perseverance that
we have New Mexico." 

A letter sent to newspaper columnists claiming responsibility for
the vandalism of the sculpture at the Oņate Center in Alcalde said
the damage was inflicted "on behalf of our brothers and sisters at
Acoma pueblo." Oņate is believed to have ordered Spanish troops to
cut off the right foot of warriors from Acoma Pueblo after an
uprising there claimed his nephew's life. 

"This was done in commemoration of his 400th year anniversary
acknowledging his unasked for exploration of our land," the
letter said.

The act was not isolated. Statues of conquistadors installed in
Santa Fe in recent years have been spray-painted with epitaphs
such as "murderer" and "killer."

Hale of the Navajo Nation said in his letter that the Spaniards
"raided our people to capture slaves." And "Spanish greed
launched 250 years of warfare as we defended our people, our
lands, our culture and our ways." 

But Simmons and Chávez say figures such as Oņate and Carson have
to be viewed in historical perspective, without today's mores
placed upon them. 

"It is very ignorant of us to take a person and make him a
god," Chávez said. "It is equally as stupid to turn around and
say - with a couple of exceptions like Hitler - that they were
completely bad people. These were human beings in a certain
place and time that had something to do and did it." 

"Chopping off the feet (of the Acoma warriors), in context, was a
small part of Oņate's life," Simmons said. "These days people want
to focus on one thing and use it to discredit the entire

The issue of sensitivity has become a frustration to many scholars,
Simmons and Chávez said. 

"People are completely immobilized now," Simmons said. "You can't
get anything done." 

Simmons says he left a job teaching history at the University of
New Mexico in 1984 because of what he viewed as an oncoming wave
of political correctness, and this year he has declined speaking
offers at cuartocentenario festivals. 

"It wasn't called political correctness then, but there were signs
of it," he said. "I'd been noticing it since the mid-1960s, so I
abandoned (teaching)." 

Recently, the authors of the Atlas of the New West - a book that
chronicles the changes in the West through maps, graphs,
illustrations and essays - declined to include a map of Western

"We had debates, arguments, and we couldn't do it," said
University of Colorado geographer William Riebsame, the book's
general editor. "The only way we could finally decide who was a
hero was if I put my foot down and said that person is a hero.
So we nixed it." 

Even the football teams of the University of New Mexico and the
University of Arizona this year stopped passing the Kit Carson
rifle as a trophy between them because of the belief that it had
been used to kill Indians. 

Hale of the Navajo Nation said he wasn't against Oņate being
commemorated, but said New Mexico's original inhabitants should
be commemorated as well. 

"It is time to remember the cost of conquest," Hale said.
"Courage is measured by the valor of the opponents; if the
daring of Spanish conquerors is honored, so should the courage
of the original habitants." 

Said Simmons: "If we fail to honor Oņate this year because
we're intimidated by crackpots, we not only disgrace Oņate, we
disgrace ourselves." 

Published in The New Mexican on 01/11/1998