U.S. Army watching over Navajo during the Long March in 1864. To relocate Navajo off their traditional homeland, Kit Carson would destroy cattle and crops and force march surrendered Navajo from Arizona to New Mexico in 1864. (Wikicommons)

Navajo Historian: Kit Carson monuments are a reminder of the distorted history against our people

For Dr. Jennifer Nez Denetdale, a Diné historian and the Navajo Nation, sculptures of infamous figures like Kit Carson are nothing but a reminder of a history that has been distorted against their favor, or erased entirely.

Denetdale would like to see that such sculptures are permanently removed, not just temporarily taken off site.

In the 1860s, Kit Carson was hired to be a federal Indian agent to subdue native populations. Carson launched a scorched earth policy to get Navajos to surrender to the U.S. Army. Carson would kill crops and cattle and he would align with Navajos’ traditional enemies to wage all out war.

Those who surrendered were forced to march from their traditional homeland in Arizona to Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico at Bosque Redondo in the winter of 1864.

“There is no reason for these sculptures. They’re based in mythology; it’s not history, and it’s not accurate.” said Denetdale.

“The entities that are taking them down in haste are not doing it because they agree with indigenous or Black people, they just want to preserve and protect them so another day they can be hauled back out.”

Dr. Denetdale is an associate professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, and also the author of several books on Navajo history, including The Long Walk: The Forced Navajo Exile and Reclaiming Navajo History.

She has also served as the chair of the Navajo Nation’s Human Rights Commission for the last four years, which focuses on the “protection and promotion of the human rights of Navajo Nation citizens by advocating human equality at the local, state, national and international levels.”

“These sculptures serve a certain function,” says Denetdale, “but one of the functions they certainly don’t serve is to expose the reality and the truths of what this country is based upon, which is: stolen indigenous lands, Black labor, and many lives in both cases.”

“Many indigenous people, especially young people, have expressed solidarity with Black Lives Matter,” Denetdale says, “and a part of demonstrating that has been the removal of symbols like monuments and statues that depict white supremacy.”

In a resolution passed by the Navajo Nation’s Human Rights Commission on July 2nd, the Navajo Nation has “called on border towns to remove any imagery that promotes Indigenous stereotypes and racial inequalities and injustices.”

The resolution calls for “businesses, governments and cities to remove signs, logos and marquees that signify racial injustices.”

According to Denetdale, who serves as the chairperson of the NNHRC, the resolution is intended as a direct response to “citizens’ complaints of racism and discrimination in urban spaces and towns off the Navajo Nation and in which our citizens either reside or must travel to for basic necessities.”

As such, the resolution specifically addresses “all communities, cities and towns on and near the Navajo Nation.”

During the passage of the resolution, examples of the type of racial imagery the commission deemed as inappropriate were brought up, and included the “Durango Chief caricature, ‘Redskins’ mascots, and verbal terminology such as ‘squaw.’”

Per the commission, the continued usage of such imagery “sustains racial inequalities and inequities and fosters anti-indigenous sentiments.”

The NNHRC also directed attention at “Bordertown police departments,” citing a need for law enforcement “to include in their policy to have Navajo cultural sensitivity training and to be more aware of Navajo human rights due to the substantial number of Navajos who visit border towns on a daily basis.”

According to Denetdale, the resolution also seeks to underscore priorities for tribal leaders across the Navajo Nation.

“We hope that the resolution offers our Diné leaders directions for bringing down such symbols of white supremacy,” said Denetdale.

The resolution comes at an opportune time, as local governments have recently scrambled to remove their commemorations to “racial injustice.”

In Denver, a sculpture of Kit Carson was “proactively” removed by city services, and days later another sculpture of Kit Carson was vandalized in Trinidad.

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