restricted access Arizona Criminalizes Indigenous Knowledge
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Arizona Criminalizes Indigenous Knowledge

The ethnic studies conflict in Arizona is a throwback to another era; from its inception, it has been inquisitorial in nature, yet the mainstream media has not adequately reported on its profound implications. The reason might be because the 2010 anti-ethnic studies HB 2281 legislation is anti-Indigenous at its core.

To be sure, the other major struggle in Arizona, the 2010 anti-immigrant SB 1070 state measure, which has a repugnant racial profiling component at its core, is also anti-Indigenous. The racial profile in question is not Hispanic (which is a misnomer); the profile, per the migra, is and has always been AmerIndigenous.

This is the most underreported aspect of these struggles. They are characterized as anti-immigrant or anti-Mexican measures. They are that, but at their core, both struggles can in effect be traced back to fifteenth-and sixteenth-century thinking. This is not hyperbole; the battles in Arizona have been about who belongs (SB 1070) and what is legitimate and permissible knowledge in the classroom (HB 2281). Both topics are related: SB 1070 attacks the body; HB 2281 attacks the mind. Both attack the spirit.

While SB 1070 appears to be a new attack against brown-skinned peoples, it is actually but a new phase, the localization of a federal policy that has always been based on racial profiling. What is relatively new is the attack on the thinking of these same communities. That goes back to the era of the Inquisition on this continent, in which church [End Page 23] authorities regulated what was acceptable thinking, resulting in the outlawing and mass burning of Indigenous books and ceremonies and scientific knowledge and anything else they believed to be outside of the Bible. This included the banning of foods, such as amaranth.

Fast-forward to 2006-12. As a result of HB 2281, Tucson's highly successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) department has been shut down, a curriculum and its books have been banned, but most important, an Indigenous worldview has also been censored. The impetus by the intellectual author of HB 2281, former state schools superintendent Tom Horne, to eliminate MAS was based on charges that it preached resentment, promoted segregation, and fomented revolution. Though the charges, per the independent 2011 Cambium Report,1 were thoroughly rejected, the department was eliminated based on the subsequent Kowal Hearings, which were anything but independent. They were but a modern-day Inquisition. Books, articles, artwork, and posters, particularly those that projected an Indigenous perspective, were deemed outside the law by the administrative law judge Lewis Kowal.2 The iconic Indigenous "Who's the alien, Pilgrim?" poster from the 1970s is an example of classroom material that was deemed illegal.

After the department was dismantled in January 2012, one of the most onerous aspects of this banning involved the MAS teacher Norma González. She was instructed to take down the Aztec calendar, which according to her principal was now illegal to teach. Ironically, seven months later, state attorney general Tom Horne stated that it was not against the law to teach the Aztec calendar. This mind-boggling statement came after years of incessant attacks against the MAS department, precisely because what was being taught there, Indigenous knowledge, was considered to be outside of Western civilization. Having said that, Horne claimed he was not responsible for what others do in the schools. On the issue of the MAS curriculum being outside of Western civilization, Horne was partially correct. The MAS curriculum is derived from a maíz-based philosophy (In Lak Ech, Panche Be; You are my other me, to seek the root of the truth), not from Greco-Roman roots. However, where he is wrong is in the idea that this should not be taught in Arizona schools.

In this shell game, the teaching of Indigenous knowledge by the former MAS teachers is still prohibited in the classroom. González explains the significance of the outlawing of the Aztec calendar: "The Aztec calendar represents the keys to Mexican Indigenous culture, but even more amazing is that it represents the keys to humanity."

González does not believe...