Empire & UNM’s Racist Seal

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Speech given April 29, 2016

by David Uahikeaikalei‘ohu Maile

Aloha mai kākou. ‘O David Uahikeaikalei‘ohu Maile wau. No Maunawili, O‘ahu mai au. My name is David Uahikeaikalei‘ohu Maile. I’m from Maunawili, O‘ahu. I’m Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian). I’m a Ph.D. student in the American studies department here at UNM. And, I’m also a member of The Red Nation. As a Hawaiian off-island, and away from ancestral home, I’ve had the tremendous honor of working alongside my brilliant Native American cousins at UNM, in American studies, and with The Red Nation. I’ve learned this is the Pueblo of Sandia’s unceded land we’re gathered upon today, and I want to acknowledge the Sandia peoples and their territory in order to give my respect and make my words accountable. I’m here to demand that UNM’s racist seal be abolished. The seal represents two nefarious figures: the frontiersman and the conquistador. One armed with a musket, the other a sword. Together, they symbolize the power to make death, as frontiersmen and conquistadors did through Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. conquest of the Southwest. UNM’s seal celebrates this legacy, not one of diversity or progress. As the official seal, UNM perpetuates this enduring legacy of dispossession, torture, rape, enslavement, and genocide of Indigenous peoples of these lands and elsewhere.

I want to share a story that links the frontiersman on UNM’s seal to Hawai‘i, my home. In 1944, at the Ewa Plantation School on O‘ahu near Pearl Harbor, a nine-foot bronze sculpture was erected called Lincoln the Frontiersman, depicting Abraham Lincoln as a frontiersman equipped with an axe. The sculpture was made by Avard Fairbanks, who had also been contracted to work on a monument of Sanford B. Dole, a white American lawyer that conspired to illegally overthrow the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. Fairbanks, thus, is renowned for memorializing white men attempting to steal and settle Native lands.

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“Lincoln the Frontiersman” Photo by: David Maile

Fairbanks has described that the sculpture Lincoln the Frontiersman symbolizes the gift of U.S. democracy and freedom to “lowly races” of the Pacific—a new frontier. But he also describes the sculpture as a response to the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor; a response to defend American settlement of Hawai‘i, to undermine Hawaiian sovereignty, and to expand U.S. empire in the Native Pacific. What Fairbanks forgets to mention is how Lincoln as a frontiersmen also symbolizes the racist anti-Indian policies proffered by Abraham Lincoln that oversaw the removal of Navajo and Mescalero Apache peoples to be interned at Bosque Redondo’s Fort Sumner in 1863. Furthermore, Lincoln sanctioned the hanging of 38 Dakota men in the Dakota War of 1862, and administered the Battle of Sand Creek in 1864 resulting in the murder of hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapaho, many of whom were women and children. The sculpture Lincoln the Frontiersman in Hawai‘i, therefore, celebrates the settler colonial dispossession and elimination of Native Hawaiians, my people, particularly by representing the imagery of Lincoln as a frontiersman that implemented racist and genocidal policies against Native American peoples on the continent. The UNM seal, like this sculpture, transits empire by abjecting Indigeneity.

Importantly then, as a symbol of violence, the seal also does material violence by disappearing Indigenous peoples, and normalizing the elimination of the Native. But, we are here today, and refuse to “get over it” or “go away.” So if you stand against racism, settler colonialism, empire, gendered and sexualized violence, and colonial heteropatriarchy, then stand with us to abolish UNM’s racist seal. Stand with us to demand Native justice. Today, we demand that UNM respect Indigenous peoples’ existence, or expect our resistance!