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Zia Pueblo say they want symbol used respectfully

Eastern New Mexico University students voted April 9 to discontinue the use of the name Zias for women’s athletics — much to the disappointment of some alumni.

The ENMU Alumni Association Board backed the decision as well as a majority of the student body, who voted to change the symbol with a vote of 446 to 221.

The ENMU Board of Regents will make the final decision Friday when they vote on the topic in their monthly board meeting.

When bringing the change to student vote, university officials admitted they were trying to copyright the Greyhound logo, but they said the reason behind the decision to change the Zia symbol was due to the Zia Pueblo people putting forth an official resolution last year asking commercial entities to stop using the Zia Sun symbol.

ENMU Alumni Affairs Director Robert Graham said the agreement between ENMU and Learfield Licensing Partners says that ENMU will receive 60 percent of all revenue from the licensing fees for the Greyhound symbol while Learfield receives 40 percent of all revenue.

According to Graham, ENMU President Steven Gamble has said the most the university hopes to receive under the agreement is $10,000 per year.

Robert Medina, attorney for the Zia Pueblo people, said the resolution put forth by the Zia Pueblo people is not so much about asking entities to stop using the symbol entirely but asking that they use it respectfully.

“We know we cannot remove the Zia Sun Symbol from people’s minds,” Medina said, adding that once a symbol is out in society, it’s out for good.

“What we would like to do is ask people to ask us for permission to use the sun symbol and use it respectfully,” Medina said, saying that the Pueblo people will consider each request individually.

Medina said he would expect that universities would use the symbol respectfully, and New Mexico State University in Las Cruces has asked permission to use the symbol on their football helmets, a request that is still pending with Zia Pueblo leadership.

“It’s the overall commercial use of the sun symbol,” Medina said. “It’s not the fact that we want to remove it from society, because we can’t. We just want to ask that people ask for permission and use it respectfully.”

An example, Medina said, is the Zia Pueblo people do not want the symbol used on things like beer cans and other alcoholic products, because the symbol is a sacred religious symbol to the Pueblo people.

“It would basically be like putting the Virgin Mary on a beer can,” he said. “It’s not respectful, in the Pueblo’s opinion.”

According to the Zia Pueblo government website, the four groups of rays in the sun symbol that shine in four cardinal directions and have four individual rays per group represents the four seasons, the four times of day and the four stages of life (childhood, youth, adulthood and old age).

“Four is a sacred number that is embodied in the Earth,” the website reads. “The circle in the middle bounds all of these aspects together in a circle of life and love.”

Medina said the discussion to have people stop using the Zia symbol commercially has been ongoing since the 1990s with tribal leaders originally wanting to have it removed from the state flag but knowing it would be too big a fight with the state to do so.

He said no one but the Zia Pueblo people would have ever seen the symbol had it not been stolen from them by former Anthropologist James Stevenson (now deceased) in 1890.

“He documented our religion and everything we do and publicized it,” Medina said.

Medina said because of his rapport with the Zia Pueblo people, Stevenson was allowed to attend sacred ceremonies, adding that Stevenson tried to purchase pottery with the Zia symbol on it and was denied.

“He ended up with it anyway, so it ended up in the Santa Fe Museum,” Medina said, adding that the pottery has now been given back to the Zia Pueblo people.

Medina said Stevenson even published a book, now out of print, which makes mention of the pottery theft, and in 1962, Leslie White also wrote a book, which documented the theft of the pottery.

He said although it is debatable for most who owns the Zia Sun Symbol, the state government or the Zia Pueblo people, there is no denying who it originally belonged to.

“The Pueblo has its own legal arguments of who owns the symbol,” Medina said.


©2015 The Portales News-Tribune (Clovis, N.M.)

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