November marks the beginning of Native American Heritage Month, and the Las Cruces City Council is taking steps to honor local indigenous peoples. In a unanimous vote, the council approved a resolution of land acknowledgment in support of indigenous peoples.
City Policy Analyst Sergio Ruiz says the resolution seeks to acknowledge the ancestral and spiritual homeland of the local tribal communities.
“The city of Las Cruces resides on land that will forever belong to the Manso people and the Piro-Manso-Tiwa community,” Ruiz said. “The city of Las Cruces has been cared for by this tribal peoples who are the original historical and perpetual stewards of this land. Because they are the forebears of this lands, the current Piro-Manso-Tiwa tribe are the forebears of Las Cruces.”
Diego Medina, an artist and cultural consultant for the Indian Arts Research Center, says the resolution is long overdue and an important acknowledgment of both the history and cultural ethnic groups of the Mesilla Valley.
“Focusing on the ethnic groups indigenous to this region, I think are really important…all of the ethnic tribal groups being acknowledged in this land acknowledgment made up what the foundation of our communities would be in this region,” Medina said.
City Councilor Johana Bencomo says the resolution is a great start but stresses the city must do more to honor local indigenous peoples. She shared her desire to see select street names with problematic roots removed, using Squaw Mountain Drive as one example.
“We have a road in the city that uses an incredibly derogatory term it’s…an ethnic and sexual slur against indigenous women,” Bencomo said. “I was told that for us, in order to change a street name, it would have to come from residents and there would have to be a petition and it could be pricey and that potentially is true. However, I think because we know it's derogatory, because we know it's offensive, and because we know it's in our city streets, that we can take initiative and change it ourselves.”
Bencomo says that while some critics may argue the city should prioritize other projects, she is confident the name change will not detract from other city initiatives.
“I can already hear the naysayers say there's more important things to do, but I think we can all walk and chew gum at the same time,” Bencomo said. “And just because it's not important to you doesn't mean it's not important. And so, I really wanted to just raise the issue that has bugged me since the day I saw this road name. And I think if we’re going to do something like this, a resolution like this, we have to back it up.”
Other councilors cited additional city projects to highlight indigenous peoples, including the need for a plaque at city hall and the construction of a new community center. Councilor Tessa Abeyta-Stuve says it’s important to identify action steps so forward momentum continues.
“We have our Visit Las Cruces page, and I have it brought up right here now, and we have no acknowledgment of the indigenous community,” Abeyta-Stuve said. “And so there's different ways that I think we can add and make sure that we're giving a full representation [that’s] accurate when we move forward.”