The New Mexico Tourism Department announced earlier this week that it is poised to execute a “brand refresh” for its ongoing New Mexico True campaign. The new elements have reportedly been in the works since 2019, and the state nickname “The Land of Enchantment” will become the tagline for the campaign moving forward.

With an updated logo, announced video stories about state icons and histories and a potential television ad unveiled, the idea is to revitalize New Mexico’s tourism industry as the state continues its COVID-19 vaccination rollout. But many in the Indigenous community are calling foul over the use of a colonialist Georgia O’Keeffe quote in a potential TV spot’s voiceover.

In the as-yet unaired commercial, a partial recording of O’Keeffe’s voice is melded with a modern voiceover: “When I got to New Mexico, that was mine,” the voices say. “As soon as I saw it, that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly. It’s something that’s in the air, it’s just different. The sky is different, the stars are different, the wind is different.”

“The messaging within this campaign is representative of a broader effort to overwrite Indigenous connections to place, which is a function of the ongoing colonial project,” says Felicia Garcia (Chumash), co-host of the Exhibiting Kinship podcast and a Santa Fe-based museum professional. “Colonial ideologies related to land and land ownership—such as manifest destiny, terra nullius and Western notions of private property—continue to harm Indigenous people. Indigenous place names, landmarks, stories, boundaries or lack thereof have been overwritten by romanticized US mythologies like this one.”

For its part, Austin, Texas-based public relations firm Giant Noise, which handles state tourism PR, tells SFR in a statement that “This video is not in market; it was an example to premier the brand refresh. Creative pieces are still in production.”

SFR requested a copy of the unaired TV spot from Giant Noise, but it did not provide one. Albuquerque news outlet KRQE aired snippets of the footage along with a brief interview with state Tourism Secretary Jen Paul Schroer on April 13. And though the ad hasn’t been released widely yet, for local Indigenous activists, the damage of even a potential colonialist ad is all too familiar.

“The New Mexico Tourism Department should be going out of its way to hire production companies owned and staffed by people of color in a state so heavily populated by Indigenous and Hispanic/Latinx people,” reads a statement to SFR from local group Three Sisters Collective. “It’s 2021, this campaign is unacceptable.”

Even the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum admonished the ad online, saying, among other things, in an Instagram story that “The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum does not support the use of Georgia O’Keeffe quotes describing New Mexico landscape as ‘her country’ or claiming ‘that was mine.’”

From the @okeeffemuseum Instagram account.
From the @okeeffemuseum Instagram account.

“This widespread effort to re-name, re-organize, and re-present places that are significant to Indigenous people has contributed to policies and practices that threaten Indigenous sovereignty and recognition of Native territory,” Garcia adds. “Just look at the examples of Standing Rock, Bears Ears, Chaco Canyon and so many others—we continue to live in a colonial society, and narratives like this that seek to separate us from our ancestral homelands are incredibly dangerous.”

SFR reached out to both the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and Schroer for comment, but did not hear back. New design and production elements will reportedly go into effect across New Mexico Tourism channels soon.

The New Mexico True campaign launched in 2012 and, according to a press release from the state tourism department, has been at least partially responsible for a 34% increase to $7.4 billion in visitor spending between then and 2019. In 2019, New Mexico’s tourism industry brought in $737 million in state and local taxes. It is estimated that the state lost roughly $3.5 billion in tourism spending in 2020.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that PR firm Giant Noise designed the new assets for the new campaign. The company handles PR for the department.