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Tiptoeing Through the Complaint Box

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I come before you, 10 days into the new year, as a white-guilt apologist for the Navajos, a reckless endangerer of coyotes and a complete, unmitigated idiot regarding firearms. And of course, as always, an emotional liberal without a wit of understanding of the real world.

It’s a heavy burden, which I relieve by night with cocktails and episodes of “Nashville” and by day with more simpering columnizing.

As I sift through the items that have been placed in the “COMPLAINTS” box of late, I sense that we are wound as tight as a jack-in-the-box, ready to spring at the first sign of disagreement. Here we go:

First, let’s turn to Cowchips, my annual exercise in levity that is guaranteed to make someone mad. It did.

Elisabeth Dicharry took issue with the item about a hunting contest that netted 39 dead coyotes. I headlined the item: “The remaining 1,833,209 coyotes are now mad and planning their revenge.”

That number was hyperbole – deliberate exaggeration – meant to invoke a huge angry mob of furry canines. It was completely made-up. No one knows exactly how many coyotes live in New Mexico, but it is certainly not 1.8 million. The best estimates are around 300,000.

Dicharry wanted this corrected because she is an activist against coyote hunting and she feared hunters and ranchers would take the number as fact and use it to argue in favor of more coyote hunting.

For the record, we are not in danger of the coyote population eclipsing humans in New Mexico. It was an exaggeration by a factor of six. I have no evidence, either, that the coyotes are angry. I hope that clarification keeps some powder dry and some coyotes out of gun sights.

And speaking of guns, the letters just keep coming about why I am an off-base liberal simp when I suggest most of us do not need to own a semiautomatic assault rifle capable of firing a bullet a second. We need to have them, I have been told at length and in detail, to fight back against the threat of our own government.

The scenario that was spelled out for me by many helpful writers is this: At some point, the government may go rogue and we will need to arm ourselves with these military-style weapons because we will be fighting against our own armies.

I guess some faction of us will know when the government is no longer ours, although I don’t know how we would ever agree on that. And I guess the citizen militia members will know how to find one another, although I don’t know how that would work, either. Twitter?

Armed resistance to perceived threats brings us to the next complaint. In my distillation of Western history circa the 1860s in a column about Abraham Lincoln, I referred to the Navajos as “marauders” who stood in the way of westward expansion to help explain why they got very different treatment from the United States government than the pueblos did.

This solicited numerous critiques that I was going easy on the Navajos, either because I didn’t understand the extent of their history of violence against Anglos, Hispanics and the pueblos, or because I did and was hiding it out of a liberal political correctness.

I could have used many more paragraphs to detail the activities that led to Kit Carson’s roundup of the Navajos and their decampment to Bosque Redondo (a campaign that one critic pointed out I inaccurately referred to as a “holocaust”). I was using shorthand to tell history – always a dangerous gambit, especially in New Mexico, where history has a way of being interpreted from the perspective of our own backgrounds, of feeling like it happened yesterday and of getting people’s backs up.

Unspoken in many of the critiques from non-Navajos was the point of view that the hardship the Navajos endured was in proportion to their violation of the United States government’s Indian policy. Navajos today disagree and still feel the Long Walk like an open wound.

That the U.S. Army vs. Navajo conflict, some 150 years later, can still turn up such strong emotions is probably a good reminder to tread carefully and completely when writing about history.

And guns and coyotes, for that matter.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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