The legacy of Manifest Destiny? Trauma and suffering


The All Pueblo Council of Governors consists of the 19 sovereign Pueblo Nations of New Mexico, with the 20th Pueblo nation, Ysleta del Sur, in Texas. We are the oldest political organization in the country, dating back to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. We are the primary and official advocacy organization representing the Pueblo Nations on all matters locally and at the state and federal levels.

We are appalled and deeply offended by the recent statements at a charter school conference by Public Education Department Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski regarding Manifest Destiny as the continuing core value of this nation and the state that drives the education agenda. This is utterly disgraceful, lacking any sensitivity, understanding and appreciation of the atrocious impacts of Manifest Destiny upon generations of our people. The principles of Manifest Destiny have inflicted multigenerational trauma. That is the legacy of Manifest Destiny in our history.

Manifest Destiny for tribal nations is aligned with the Doctrine of Discovery that justified the racial hierarchy. The discriminatory principles drawn from these two doctrines made their way into the earliest U.S. Supreme Court decisions that defined policies and laws significantly disadvantageous to Native Americans and their nations that continue to this day.

As a result of the Western expansion, the General Allotment Act of 1887, commonly known as the Dawes Act, formalized and incorporated “Indian Education.” The policy of assimilation was, in their words, to “convert them into American citizens.” These combined policies ushered in the boarding schools. The mantra was “to kill the Indian and save the man. The way you kill the language and culture is to remove the children and deny those children their language and culture.”

In the words of Thomas Jefferson Morgan, commissioner of Indian affairs in 1889, “We must either fight the Indians, feed the Indians or else educate them. To fight them is cruel, to feed them is a waste, while to educate them is humane, economic, and Christian.” This was the justification to transform us, to strip us from our identity and to force us into the “melting pot.” We have resisted, struggling to find a balance and, in many places, created great successes.

The Santa Fe Indian School on Cerrillos Road was one of the earliest schools constructed in 1890 to fulfill Manifest Destiny and to further the assimilation of our children. Since the historic enactment of the Self Determination and Education Assistance Act that we actively worked on and passed into law in 1975, we have taken ownership and transformed the school driven by our vision of education. The Santa Fe Indian School was the first Indian-controlled school recognized by President Ronald Reagan as a School of Education Excellence.

Unfortunately, for many schools out of our control, since the earliest days, study after study documents the failures and the devastation caused by ill-conceived policies and laws. It may have made America great, but it has been at a huge cost to the indigenous peoples of this nation. We are the surviving nations and peoples.

A person in Ruszkowski’s position in 2017 in a state with a population that has been significantly victimized and devastated by these policies he espouses regrettably has no place in a leadership capacity. The least that our children, their parents and our leaders deserve is an apology for those comments.

In the last several months, we have been engaged in protesting proposals by the department’s Bilingual and Multicultural Education Bureau to repeal and replace essential language programs — this, after years of struggle to legitimize indigenous languages to take their rightful place among heritage languages that are in statute. We have argued that our children should have the opportunity to learn their languages as a basic and fundamental right in their education, and we have accomplished that. It is at the heart of our protest to any changes to that framework.

This conflict exemplifies at the most fundamental level our continuing struggle and fight for what our children deserve in maintaining their identity, while having the best education possible. When children were forcibly removed from their families and shipped off to boarding schools, Hopi elders protested against the cruelty of these government policies. For their protests, they were imprisoned at Alcatraz. Our advocacy on behalf of our children continues with the deepest of our love for them and what we feel they deserve. What the man in charge of public education espouses is offensive, given our history and fight for survival.

E. Paul Torres is the chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors. He is from Isleta Pueblo.

Here’s what Public Education Department Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski said earlier this month, speaking at the Charter School Coalition’s annual conference in Albuquerque, as reported by the Albuquerque Journal. Ruszkowski was discussing the notion of school choice, which he touted as “quintessentially American,” before going on to say: “This is a country built over the last 250 years on things like freedom, choice, competition, options, going west, Manifest Destiny — these are the fundamental principles of this country. That’s why charter schools make so much sense — high-quality options — in the context of where we are as a country.”