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Sen. Representative Udell Calzadillas Chavez, right and Stephanie Everett discuss a resolution that would support UNM removing Columbus Day from UNM Calendars on Wednesdays ASUNM meeting in the SUB. KIVA Club criticized ASUNM for being ignorant about the issue.
Sen. Representative Udell Calzadillas Chavez, right and Stephanie Everett discuss a resolution that would support UNM removing Columbus Day from UNM Calendars on Wednesdays ASUNM meeting in the SUB. KIVA Club criticized ASUNM for being ignorant about the issue.

ASUNM puts Columbus Day decision on hold

Emotions flared during the portion of the meeting devoted to comments from the packed gallery. Several students and some community members expressed their disappointment at the student governing body, hurling remarks such as “racist,” “evil” and “ignorant” at the senators and urging them to “change the damn name” of the federal holiday.

Although members of the KIVA Club, which promotes Native American issues and identity, and other organizations criticized the student governing body for being ignorant, the backlash may have fueled by misunderstanding.

The resolution, authored primarily by the KIVA Club, was introduced to ASUNM’s Outreach and Appointments committee last week, but Sen. Kyle Stepp said the committee didn’t feel comfortable passing it on to the senate because only one of the authors was present.

“We didn’t oppose it,” Stepp said. “We tabled it so that we can fix it.”

All resolutions are first presented to the Outreach and Appointments committee. If passed, they go on to be discussed and voted on by the full senate.

Stepp said much deliberation was had at the committee meeting over the resolution to make it more inclusive and complete, without any intention of offending Native Americans.

Kaelyn White, a junior medical laboratory sciences and biochemistry double major who is Native American and said she spoke on behalf of Native American students, said she has struggled with feeling comfortable on campus since she arrived at UNM.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” White said. “I tried to make friends outside of my race, and that was impossible because I would get those looks.”

White said it was that insecurity that led her to become involved in protesting the celebration of Columbus Day.

“When Columbus Day came around I joined KIVA (Club) and they wanted to do a (demonstration) to inform people that we are still here,” she said. “We made signs and banners saying ‘You are on Indian land,’ because it’s true.”

Cheyenne Antonio, president of the KIVA Club, said that the indigenous student population at UNM is underrepresented, and that the University does not respect them.

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“New Mexico is a diverse state with a high percentage of Native Americans, Hispanics, Mexicans — there’s a good amount of all of us here,” Antonio said. “I think it’s UNM’s duty to respect that and honor their students, because we’re not paying thousands of dollars to take crap like this.”

According to American Indian Student Services, 6.5 percent of students on UNM’s Main campus are Native American, amounting to 2,405 students.

Antonio said the prevalence of ignorance on campus is disheartening to her and to Native American students. Columbus’ colonization is even on display for all to see, she said.

“Here on the third floor of the SUB, you can see the kachina dolls and the culture being acknowledged that way,” she said. “But really, if you study it and the reasons why they’re here ... you know, colonization? Some of those dolls aren’t supposed to be here.”

One suggestion was an installation of a Culture Day in place of Columbus Day, Stepp said. But that wasn’t good enough for some.

“The authors did not agree with that,” Stepp said. “So we felt that we should not be making any more edits to this resolution without all the authors at the table, because there was only one (party). It’s not right on our behalf.”

Stepp said he was the one who motioned to fail the resolution in order to bring back a “fresh, new version.” He emphasized that the failing should not be interpreted as ASUNM opposing the resolution, but rather they wanted all of the authors’ voices heard before they made a decision.

“Do I fully support it 100 percent? Absolutely,” he said. “I want to make this change on this campus because we need it. But we had to fail it due to logistical reasons.”

Sen. Udell Calzadillas Chavez, another member of the Outreach and Appointments committee, said some of the proposed changes would have affected the implications of the resolution. The intent was no longer clear, he said.

“I felt uncomfortable that it was very, very distant from its original purpose,” he said.

Stepp said the resolution will be making a comeback at the next meeting.

“Next Wednesday it will be coming back in,” he said.“ I fully hope that we do pass it.”

Meanwhile, students like Antonio and White continue to oppose a holiday that Antonio said celebrates genocide.

“Some of us can still speak and go back to our cultural roots,” she said. “That’s something I’m very thankful for, and that’s why I stand behind the resolution.”

David Lynch is a staff reporter for The Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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