Photo copyright Wings, 2014; all rights reserved.
So, week before last came news that the Taos Town Council, with the backing of new Mayor Dan Barrone, had changed the name of the local community park.
At first blush, it seemed to be win/win: The community park, which is right downtown and is the place where all the local arts and crafts fairs, the wool festival, and other regional events are held, is no longer named for the genocidal Indian killer whose name pollutes streets, businesses, and institutions all over this part of Indian Country. [For those who don't know, until couple of weeks ago, it was named "Kit Carson Memorial Park." Really? In a town that wouldn't exist but for the Indian residents, you're going to "memorialize" an Indian killer. Oh, yes; this is the norm.]
And it's been renamed "Red Willow Park": "Red Willow" for the people of Taos Pueblo, because that "Red Willow" is the English translation of their name for themselves.
Except not so much. Why?
Because nobody, but nobody, bothered to ask the permission of the Pueblo.
Nope. Just, once again,
The initial article in The Taos News, two weeks ago, showed pushback from one member of the council (and I have no patience with him or his "arguments"; his pushback is rooted in bigotry and resentment). It also was written in such a way, and quoted the new mayor in such a way, as to seem to indicate that he and the council had contacted the Pueblo about this name change and had been given approval to do so.
The article in last week's edition shows that nothing could be further from the truth:
Town officials have also faced questions about the lack of communication with tribal government ahead of the vote. Taos Mayor Dan Barrone told The Taos News last week he did not speak with anyone in tribal government before the name change was approved because it happened so quickly.
In a June 25 letter to The Taos News, tribal Gov. Clyde M. Romero Sr. and War Chief David G. Gomez make clear Taos Pueblo did not ask the town to rename the park.
“Mayor Barrone and the town council acted alone on their own authority and without input, consideration or discussion with Taos Pueblo to rename the park ‘Red Willow Park,’ “ the letter states.
“The chosen name of the park is one that holds a special and significant meaning to Taos Pueblo and its people,” the letter reads, noting that the tribe is a sovereign nation that interacts on a “government-to-government basis.”
“As such, Taos Pueblo only feels it appropriate that the mayor and council should have consulted and requested input from Taos Pueblo regarding the use of the name ‘Red Willow.’ “
I have to tell you, Wings frankly cheered at the text of that letter. Because Governor Romero and War Chief Gomez are absolutely, incontrovertibly, 110% right.
Nothing should ever be taken from the people without their consent, least of all their very identity. And yet, with our new mayor and his minions, it was business as usual: Appropriate for their own self-promotion, then later when it becomes clear that you've really stepped in it, "apologize" on grounds that "it happened so quickly." Well, why, Dan? So you could make a name for yourself. So you could exploit Indians for political bennies. So you could use them, us, once again for your own agenda.
Of course, the article itself is also just a horror show of stupidity. People: If you're going to write about anything Indian-related, you have absolute obligation to get.it.right. If you can't be bothered to do that, then, really, shut the fuck up about it. It's not your business, and it's not yours to appropriate for self-aggrandizement. And twice, the reporter gets the translation of the name wrong, something he could have verified if he'd bothered either to go to the Taos Pueblo Web site or to ask his fellow reporter, who is an enrolled member. For the last time: "Taos" is the Spanish corruption of the word for "the village," referring to a particular place. It does not translate to "People of the Red Willow"; that term is not for consumption by outsiders (including me, and no, I don't ask, because I don't need to know, nor does anyone not an actual member of the Pueblo itself).
The commentary since then is also a horror show of stupidity . . . and racism. I'm not even going to bother addressing it, because it's always here. And frankly, the opinions of non-Indians are irrelevant on this one. Suffice to say that subsequent comments and OpEd pieces are what you'd expect when privilege is impinged.
It'll probably go to a new vote. The whining from opponents has gotten much louder, and much more childish. So where do we come down on it?
With the Pueblo:
The letter from the governor and war chief goes on to say the Pueblo appreciates the town’s attempt to foster a better relationship with the tribal government. The letter concludes by saying Taos Pueblo supports the name change “for all Taos Valley residents.”As far as we're concerned, that's the opinion that counts.