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Kit Carson Park Name Changed Overturned; Back to Kit Carson, for Now

A park in Taos, NM, will retain the name of a controversial historical figure -- for now, at least.
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The Taos Town Council has rescinded the name change from Red Willow back to Kit Carson Park, in another 3-1 vote, after an emotional and spirited 3 hour town meeting on July 8. It is a temporary measure mollifying Carson supporters, while councilors voted 4-0 to form a committee to search out a probable name change for the park in the center of the community within 60 days. Carson supporters got his name permanently attached to the grave area where he and wife Josefa Jaramillo are buried just east of the park. It was a convoluted motion seeking to appease all sides temporarily while the debate continues.

RELATED:Not So Fast: Kit Carson Park in Taos, NM, Might NOT Be Renamed

It was a packed meeting with Natives, Hispanics and Anglos (a New Mexican term for anyone not Native or Hispanic, usually meaning Americans) arguing and debating over history and symbols. Taos Pueblo representatives said a majority of their elders didn’t agree with using Red Willow as it “belongs to The Pueblo”, but they will be a part of the committee tasked with a name change. Those who supported the name change felt the Carson side got to vent and argue over history but that it is inevitable and desirable to have a change. The Peace and Reconciliation aspect of the change is what these supporters address, saying it’s time to enter the 21st century. Carson supporters say that “history was obliterated” by the change, of course both Natives and Hispanics said that their histories were obliterated and ignored by the Americans taking over the territory.

Alysa Landry

This stone marks the site of the Sand Creek Massacre—150 years after the massacre, Cheyenne and Arapaho descendants still grapple with the tragedy.

The usual back and forth commenced of who killed who, Natives and Hispanics revolting against corrupt American businessmen appointed by the U.S. military, Anglos saying their relatives were murdered, Carson’s campaign against the Navajos (“don’t call my relative an Indian-killer”) drew some Anglos into saying that Carson didn’t treat the Navajos “too bad” and besides “he had 2 Indian wives”. For generations, most of these racial, cultural and historical issues went unresolved and not even talked about in polite society ... until now. Former Judge Peggy Nelson said the change was “an incredibly important thing” and “it is time to project something other than Kit Carson.” Nelson said an enlightened society can change a symbol of hurt and turn it into a symbol of hope.

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Most Carson supporters had a stake in the Carson-Jaramillo heritage as Karen Douglas, director of the Kit Carson Home & Museum (yes, they have one of those too) said, “We welcome these discussions of these conflicts and this history…no matter how difficult it was.” Taos Pueblo Governor Clyde Romero, Sr. said, “There’s a reason these things happen…it brought all these people together.”

RELATED:Unifying Humanity: Kit Carson Park to Become Red Willow Park

Lyla June Johnston, the Navajo-Lakota poet and activist, said it was momentous and eventful and probably some “big medicine”, as so many Taosenos talked about their family traditions and histories as never before in a public forum. Local issues of land grants and land ownership in the Taos Valley were actually talked about without rancor as people had to accept each other’s facts and histories. Johnston said she felt that 80-90% of the people there supported a name change in the spirit of reconciliation. She opened the meeting with a video presentation for her Regeneration Festival that seemed to set the tone for the meeting as several speakers referred back to the video and its message about healing forward and backward, using the Park and the Festival as positive opportunities to heal all the generations, both young and old.

Chris Pieper, a local businessman joined Lyla's committee to initiate the process to change the name 4 months ago. Here are his recollections of the council meeting. “David Rodriguez, an older Hispanic man, made a good point…that there is a spirit that is emerging from this difficult process of reconciliation…a spirit of peace. He said that a sharp pointed stick had been driven into the ground releasing anger, sorrow, and other energies. Many of the speakers were older women from the Hispanic, Native, and Anglo communities. They all emphasized that this about changing a symbol from one that represents division and war to one that represents unity and peace. It is not about dishonoring a man who lived over 100 years ago. The opposition accused us of trying to rewrite history. We are looking at history with a different perspective, but the focus is on the present. We are honoring the ancestors by creating a healthier, more peaceful world for our children.”

Pieper continued, “An older Hispanic woman made the point that we have been divided by the lies of the corporate elite for too long. We cannot fight them and win. We must wake up from our imagined separation from each other and the Earth. The only way is through love. The time is now. Richard Archuleta [of the Taos Pueblo Powwow Committee] invited the council, mayor, and the whole community to the powwow, taking place this weekend. The Mayor invited the Pueblo to come celebrate the town Fiestas. Fred Peralta, a councilman and former mayor of Taos, referred to our valley as one family: the Taos Family. The current mayor took Fred's lead and emphasized the need to come together as a human family. Linda Yardly from Taos Pueblo emphasized the need for a Peace and Reconciliation Council to be formed that will focus on keeping this discussion ongoing, saying that resilience is a characteristic of a community that is working together. The new name for the park is in the hands of the Pueblo. The tribal leadership was grateful for the steps taken toward peace and expressed a strong desire to work together to heal our community.”

Alex Jacobs
Santa Fe, NM
July 12, 2014