UNM students gathered in front of Zimmerman Library on Wednesday morning to protest what they called racist anti-abortion posters that were posted on campus and are now circulating on Facebook.
The posters, which were posted initially as part of a campaign of the pro-life organization 40 Days for Life, depicted a fetus in the third trimester wearing a feather on its head. The picture included a Native American medicine wheel in the background, and the phrase “Today and Indian boy was killed in the Indian way hey ya hey” was written beneath the picture of the fetus.
“We’re not here to target the debate of pro-choice and pro-life,” said Kiva Club President Lane Bird Bear. “We’re here to address the negative campaigns that targeted Native Americans.”
The Kiva Club is a Native American student organization at UNM.
Bird Bear said the posters caught the club’s attention Tuesday night, when they received emails from people who were offended by the image. He said that shortly after the club learned about the posters, its members organized the protest and publicized the event on Facebook.
“We thought that to get all the proper reactions, we needed to do this immediately,” he said.
Bird Bear said the club expected about 60 people to attend the protest throughout the day. He said that about 11 percent of the UNM student population and about 11 percent of the New Mexico population are Native American and that the images displayed in the poster were inappropriate.
“One of the main things that was so offensive is the terminology,” he said. “Even the symbolism is being mocked, as an aborted fetus in the third trimester is adorned with feathers and a medicine wheel. It’s basically mocking our traditions and cultures.”
But Samantha Serrano, director of Catholic Apologetics Fellowship and Evangelism, an on-campus group working with 40 Days for Life, said the posters were put up by a man who was not affiliated with their organization. Serrano said that as soon as another man told the group that the posters were offensive, members immediately took them down. She said the organization asked the man who made the posters not to return.
“We had a gentleman who was not associated with our group who wanted to come along, and he had some signs that he had made,” she said. “We didn’t look at them initially, but when we did look at them, we took down all of the signs and we told him that he was not allowed to keep the signs up. We asked him not to come back.”
Serrano said that the group apologizes to anyone who was offended by the signs, and that they do not represent the views of the organizations.
“We are in no way racist,” she said. “We are in no way trying to call out any ethnic group whatsoever. We’re here just to try to maintain the dignity of life.”
Various organizations on campus, such as the Men of Color Alliance and the Beta Sigma Epsilon fraternity, attended the protest in support of the Kiva Club.
Men of Color Alliance member Juan Gonzalez said the posters do not target only Native Americans, but also people of color in general. He said the controversy surrounding abortion is well-known and that it wasn’t useful for an organization to use racial references in its campaign.
“Men of color … are already in a crisis of not graduating from the University. And stuff like that really affects our people, especially because of discrimination,” he said.
Gonzalez said that although the man who made the offensive posters was not affiliated with the pro-life campaign, the organization is still accountable for the impact.
40 Days for Life local leader Liz Turner said that before the protest began, she approached the Kiva Club, who set up a tent in Smith Plaza, to apologize. But she said that one of the group’s members asked her to leave.
“I just said I was wanting to explain what we did to a gentleman,” she said. “And he said, ‘I want you separate from us.’”
But Bird Bear said that Turner tried to justify what the posters meant instead of apologizing directly to the group. He said the club has not received a formal apology from 40 Days for Life yet, although the club has not demanded one.
“They said that we’re taking it out of context. I don’t see how we could be taking it out of context when the imagery and the terminology was so blatant on the poster,” he said. “(We want) no compromise. We just want to let them know that our culture and identities can’t be misappropriated to further their own political agenda anymore.”
Although Turner denied Bird Bear’s accusations, Bird Bear said the organization exploited Native Americans when the posters were displayed for the campaign. He said that the club protested exploitation and that the protest does not reflect the group’s views on abortion.
“We as Native American students, we won’t allow this to happen anymore. It has happened too long, for over 200 years. We won’t stand for that,” he said. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. This has nothing to do with abortion. This has something to do with discrimination and racism and bigotry.”
Serrano said that even though she agrees that the posters were offensive, the club shouldn’t hold 40 Days for Life accountable for the posters. She said that she apologizes to the Kiva Club on behalf of her group and to anybody who found the posters offensive.
“I hope people understand that we were not doing it on purpose,” she said. “That was an individual act, and that was not what we stand for.”