4105 Tsia

This minor planet is one of the relatively few named after a symbol, making it pretty much a lowball for me. It is named after the Keresan word tsia, sometimes rendered in English as "zia", which refers to the sacred sun symbol used by the Zia Pueblo tribe of Native Americans for hundreds of years. Notably, it also appears on the New Mexico state flag.

The symbol for this minor planet is exactly as advertised: a small circle, with four rays above, below, left, and right. Fourness is important to Zia spirituality and culture, representing the cardinal directions, the seasons, and the broad periods of a human life.

It is important to note that the Zia people are extant today, with a politically-active population of 320, and live predominantly at the Zia Pueblo Indian reservation in New Mexico. Furthermore, they have explicit ownership of their sacred symbol, in a way that can be considered to supersede concerns of censorship law. That is, there is no legal restriction as to who can use the symbol, and it is not and can not be registered under trademark law [1], but there is something of a moral or ethical question.

The Zia are currently in a process of reclaiming this sacred symbol, which has been appropriated over the years by various American groups and institutions. The difficult they face is that not only is it widely used by companies with no regard for the Zia, but its use in the state flag prevents the Zia from benefitting monetarily from it directly [2]. Common practice is that if companies or corporations wish to use the tsia symbol respectfully, they must ask permission of a representative of the Zia, and are usually asked in turn to kick back some donations to the Zia Pueblo reservation.

This is a bit of a dilemma for me as a symbologer. Am I obligated to ask for permission to design a symbol for this asteroid, despite publishing it under a not-for-profit Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license? I am uncertain as to whether even the name of this asteroid is an example of cultural appropriation. I think I will reach out to a representative of the Zia to ask for permission and guidance in this matter, and update this page upon further developments.

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[1] Erin McSherry (August 30, 2014). "Report to the Indian Affairs Committee of the New Mexico Legislature," <link>

[2] Stephanie B. Turner (March 1, 2012). "The Case of the Zia: Looking Beyond Trademark Law To Protect Sacred Symbols" <link>


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