Education secretary expresses remorse for Manifest Destiny remark in Shiprock

Christopher Ruszkowski says he made 'poor historical reference'

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
New Mexico Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski talks with community members before the start of a Central Consolidated School District board meeting on Tuesday at the CCSD administration building in Shiprock.
  • Ruszkowski called Manifest Destiny a "fundamental principle of our country" in a December speech.
  • The Shiprock Chapter president called Ruszkowski's response "very bureaucratic."
  • The teacher committee that will review and revise the state social study curriculum includes Native American representation.

SHIPROCK — Christopher Ruszkowski, secretary designate for the New Mexico Public Education Department, has expressed his remorse to the community of Shiprock for a "poor historical reference” he made during an address in December in Albuquerque.

Ruszkowski spoke to the Central Consolidated School District school board at a regular meeting on Tuesday in Shiprock, emphasizing the continued improvement of public education at the district, school class and state levels.

“Let me just start off by saying … that means me, too,” Ruszkowski said, adding, “It’s been a great privilege and honor to act as your secretary of education, but I’m certainly not always perfect, and I’ve certainly made mistakes along the way in the last seven months. I’ve had the chance to look you in the eye and express my remorse for the poor historical reference I made in December. I had a chance to look you in the eye, but I wanted to also look you in the eye again tonight because I do think that sin is refusal to grow and to admit when you can do better. I hope that you’ll accept my remorse and my kind words this evening.”

Ruszkowski has received criticism for remarks he made during the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools annual conference in December in Albuquerque, in which he listed Manifest Destiny as one of “the fundamental principles of this country,” the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Superintendent Colleen W. Bowman asks a question Tuesday during a Central Consolidated School District board meeting in Shiprock.

Manifest Destiny was “the supposed inevitability of the continued territorial expansion of the boundaries of the United States westward to the Pacific and beyond,” according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Many found that comment in poor taste, including Pueblo leaders, who called for an apology from Ruszkowski in December, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

Ruszkowski said the PED is working to revise and improve the social studies curriculum used throughout the state “to make sure it’s more reflective of our culture and our history here as a state in New Mexico.”

“We have 36 teachers that are getting together from around the state that are creating new lessons, new units, and looking at history differently than we have traditionally,” Ruszkowski said.

CCSD Superintendent Colleen Bowman asked how many of the teachers involved “are from Native American communities so that a repeat of Manifest Destiny doesn’t show up as something to be proud of in this state.” Ruszkowski said though he didn’t know the exact number, “there were certainly several members representing Native American communities” on the revision committee.

New Mexico Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski speaks to school board members during a meeting on Tuesday at the Central Consolidated School District offices in Shiprock.

“I, myself, I am deeply committed to this idea of getting our history right (and) not telling our history in the traditional way that maybe it was told in the 1950s — inappropriately,” Ruszkwoski said. “I taught U.S. history, and that’s certainly not how I taught it. I think what you’ll see is these 36 teachers will develop 18 units that they’ll share ... and I think what you’ll see in those final products is a true reflection of where we are as New Mexicans.”

Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie spoke at the meeting, saying Manifest Destiny and other proclamations from Western churches and governments “provided the authorization, motivation and justification for the capture and subjugation of the Western Hemisphere — the greatest land fraud and largest holocaust in human history.”

Though Yazzie said at the meeting he appreciated Ruszkowski “setting the record straight,” he said the secretary’s response was “very bureaucratic” on Wednesday.

Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie speaks during a Central Consolidated School District board meeting Tuesday night in Shiprock.

“Nothing is going to be significant enough to address our concern if the proposals are generated from the state perspective without any meaningful dialog with us,” Yazzie said. “That just won’t fly. I think more than that, we have the capacity to define the process of education that will be acceptable to us, and I’m confident that we can do that in such a way that it will meet the state requirements.”

During the meeting, Yazzie challenged Ruszkowski to “give us our freedom” in deciding “what manner of education is most appropriate for our children."

“After all, it is we who know our children, our communities, our needs and our future,” Yazzie said.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or