After a protest over a statue of a Spanish conquistador erupted in gunfire Monday night in Albuquerque, the city of Santa Fe is bracing for a demonstration Thursday over an obelisk that was erected more than 150 years ago and dedicated in part to the “heroes” who died in battle with “savage Indians.”

“This racist monument against indigenous peoples has got to go,” Three Sisters Collective, which is organizing the event, wrote on social media. “Join us on the Santa Fe Plaza [at 5 p.m. Thursday] to demand that the obelisk celebrating violence against ‘savage Indians’ be removed.”

Representatives of the Santa Fe-based organization, whose “vision is to reclaim and celebrate Pueblo Indigenous identity and culture through the arts and activism,” did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Plans for a protest in the historic heart of the city come as roiling tensions are felt nationwide over monuments commemorating controversial figures in history. Such conflict was seen in Albuquerque as protesters tried to tear down a statue featuring Juan de Oñate, as well as the temporary removal of an Oñate statue earlier in the day in Alcalde amid concerns it would be vandalized or toppled during a demonstration that turned into a celebratory rally after the monument was hauled away.

The protest also comes on the heels of an effort by Native American activist Elena Ortiz to remove a statue of another Spanish conquistador, Don Diego de Vargas, from Santa Fe’s Cathedral Park. Some people credit de Vargas with the peaceful resettlement of Santa Fe after the bloody Pueblo Revolt of 1680, but Ortiz and others contend there was nothing peaceful about it.

“The one thing that I said and I think was echoed a lot yesterday in the Alcalde celebration was, ‘Watch out, de Vargas. We’re coming for you,’ ” Ortiz, whose father is from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, said Tuesday.

Ortiz, who grew up in Santa Fe, started an online petition calling on the City Council to remove the de Vargas statue. More than 100 people had signed the petition on as of Tuesday afternoon. Ortiz said she didn’t think the petition would carry much weight until an Ohkay Owingeh man started a petition to remove the Oñate statue from Alcalde.

“And where is that statue now?” asked Ortiz, who is a member of the Red Nation, a coalition of Native American activists and their allies.

Coincidentally, Ortiz is the great-niece of the late Emilio Naranjo, a legend in Northern New Mexico politics who led the initiative to install a statue of Oñate in Alcalde.

“I don’t think that he was educated in exactly what Oñate was, what he stood for, what he did,” said Ortiz, adding she believes her great-uncle — who was known as a patrón in Rio Arriba County — wanted the monument to bring tourism into the area.

“I think he did it with the best intentions,” she said. “I also have no rose-tinted glasses about Emilio Naranjo. I mean, everybody in Española and the Española Valley knows who and what he was.”

Gary Delgado, president of Los Caballeros de Vargas, a fraternal organization that commissioned the statue, said he was unaware of Ortiz’s petition calling for the removal of the de Vargas statue from Cathedral Park next to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. But he said it didn’t come as a surprise.

“I knew it was going to happen,” he said. “They’ve always targeted us.”

Delgado said the organization was going to take a wait-and-see approach. But he said he hoped a compromise would be born out of opposing views.

“We’ve lived together for over 400 years, and then all of a sudden things started changing — crying wolf, I guess, I don’t know what it is,” he said. “But how could we have lived all these years together in peace and harmony? Now it’s the way of the world. That’s what it is.”

The monuments of Spanish conquistadors serve as recurring flashpoints between residents of Hispanic descent and Native Americans whose ancestors suffered at the conquistadors’ hands. The debate over the appropriateness of honoring Spanish conquistadors roils over other historical figures in Southwest history, such as Christopher “Kit” Carson, who is viewed by some as a famed frontiersman but by others as a murderer of Native Americans.

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In Santa Fe, de Vargas — a historical figure both honored and reviled — has sparked the most controversy.

Two years ago, Los Caballeros de Vargas agreed to “retire” a dramatization known as the Entrada, which depicted the Spanish conquistador’s “peaceful” reentry into Santa Fe after abandoning the city during the Pueblo Revolt. The Entrada had sparked raucous protests and sparked divisions within the city.

While former Mayor Javier Gonzales laid the groundwork, the controversial pageant was eliminated under the tenure of Mayor Alan Webber, who said in a statement Tuesday he was “shocked and saddened” by the Albuquerque shooting “when a protest against a statue turned violent.”

“I believe in the sanctity of human life and everyone’s right to protest peacefully. No statue is worth the loss of any human life,” he said.

Webber said the city of Santa Fe needs to mirror the cooperation and compromise that resulted in the end of the Entrada.

“Going forward in Santa Fe, we need to build on the proclamation that was signed September 7, 2018 that expressed our deep love for our city, affirmed our shared values, acknowledged our history of trauma, and committed ourselves to a future of reconciliation,” he said. “We need to return to that dialogue. This afternoon I’ve spoken with representatives of all of the groups that signed that original Proclamation, and they all agree: We need to listen to the young people, return to our community-wide conversations, and keep the peace.”

Also in a statement, Deputy Chief Paul Joye said the Santa Fe Police Department “will have police resources committed to maintaining a safe environment to everyone in attendance, and ensuring that everyone’s constitutional rights are respected.”

“As a department, we hope that the people of Santa Fe will continue as they have been, to come together to have their voices heard, but remain respectful to their fellow community members and city,” he added.

The city did not respond to questions about the possibility members of an armed citizen militia group that calls itself the New Mexico Civil Guard would show up. Members of the group attended a recent Black Lives Matter protest in Santa Fe, as well as the protest in Albuquerque that ended in violence.

Group member Nicolas Lomas, who attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Santa Fe earlier this month armed with a loaded .308-caliber bolt-action rifle, said late Tuesday he was unaware of Thursday’s protest. He said he didn’t know whether members of the militia group would attend.

“It’s getting real touchy now because they’re getting a little more violent,” he said, referring to protesters. “What we’re trying to stay away from is from the violence. We’re trying to be there just as a deterrent to keep the protesters from damaging property.”

Lomas said he planned to consult with other members of the organization.

“I’ll call a couple of the guys and see how many men they can muster up,” he said.

While Thursday’s protest will be centered on the obelisk in the middle of the Plaza, an obelisk in front of the federal courthouse downtown that was dedicated to Carson recently was vandalized. “Stolen land” was spray-painted in red letters near the base of the obelisk, which identifies Carson as a pioneer, pathfinder and soldier who “led the way.”

The obelisk on the Plaza has also been vandalized in the past. In 1974, the word “savage” was chipped out by an unidentified man. In 2017, someone wrote the word ‘courageous’ in the chipped-out space.

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(30) comments

Michael Froman

Liberal Anglos with no ancestral or historical connection to New Mexico sure seem to have a lot of ignorant opinions about Latino historical landmarks. The White Taliban punks that tried to destroy the Juan de Oñate statue in ABQ attacked a Latino guy who tried to stop them and somehow he's the "hater"? ANGLOS, STAY IN YOUR LANE!

Michael Froman

White Anglo Terrorists trying to "Taliban" a Latino historical landmark with pickaxes get interrupted by a Latino guy and try to cave his head in with a 5lb skateboard.

Harvey Wright

Anglo outsiders?

"Ortiz is the great-niece of the late Emilio Naranjo, a legend in Northern New Mexico politics who led the initiative to install a statue of Oñate in Alcalde."

Cate Moses

What an irresponsible, openly racist attempt at journalism. It is grossly irresponsible of the New Mexican to invite the hate group NM Civil Guard to terrorize our city, and to leave unchallenged their assertion that "“What we’re trying to stay away from is from the violence. We’re trying to be there just as a deterrent to keep the protesters from damaging property.” Daniel Chacon's words ("a protest over a statue of a Spanish conquistador erupted in gunfire"; "conflict was seen in Albuquerque as protesters tried to tear down a statue;" "the protest in Albuquerque that ended in violence") imply that protesters in Albuquerque caused the violence. Patently untrue. The shooter, Steven Baca, was clearly not a protester. Like the NM Civil Guard, he came armed for one purpose: to harass and shoot protesters, and to assault their right to assemble and criticize the government. He assaulted three women protesters, shoved one face down on the concrete, sprayed protesters with pepper spray, and then shot an unarmed young male protester in the back, critically wounding him. It's all on video. The protest in ABQ did not "erupt in gunfire." Steven Baca did, and an idealistic young man is now fighting for his life in the hospital after being shot in the back by Steven Baca. A more cowardly action than Baca's is hard to imagine.

Stefanie Beninato

By trying to tear a public statute down, the protesters went from peaceful activists to vandals engaging in the destruction of public property. No, I do not see Baca as innocent and the NM Civil Guard is a group of gun-totters who would love nothing better than to incite violence. They should be banned from coming armed to public demonstrations. Why don't these activists try petitioning the local government for redress rather than destroying public property. One hundred signatures to get rid of the obelisk does not make for overwhelming public support and unilateral action does not portend well for democratic ideals or processes.

Khal Spencer

The Complicated History of Prague's Tank No. 23

Eslee Kessler

The only thing that odelisk can “teach” is the history of conflict and racism against,the “savage “ indigenous peoples . We have many opportunities to educate people about our history. Come and join the many museum docent programs that “ teach the history” of place through the artwork.. or the walking tours, or the wonderful history of La Fonda hotel which incorporates all cultures, the railroad, Fred Harvey, tourism, exploitation of native artists- you name it!- it’s all there! Why glorify oppression with monuments that are disturbing visual reminders that call attention to violence and conflict? Leave it to the many books and articles that are available

Emily Koyama

If you're ok with books and museums, why not monuments? If you're intelligent and resourceful enough to learn the real facts involving the historical events related to the monument, then you should be able to discern the difference between "glorification" and an object representing a historical event.

Cate Moses


Cate Moses

For clarity: My "Exactly" is a reply to Eslee Kessler (above). I submitted it as such and it was moved out of place.

Khal Spencer

If a monument is to be removed it should be by a peaceful process governed by our democratic principles, not by a bunch of yahoos showing up with sledges, pick axes, and ropes and imposing their will. I really hope that the mayor and police chief, not to mention the participants, keep any protest here from descending into the chaos and violence that hit Albuquerque yesterday.

You can condemn people for showing up armed, and I don't think people should show up armed to threaten deadly force to save a %$#@ statue. Heck, we bombed whole cities to rubble in WW II and they were rebuilt. But when some take the law into their own hands and destroy something that is as politically and emotionally sensitive as a monument, whether its the oblesk, Onate, Lee, Jackson, or who or whatever, they are imposing their will by force. For every person who wants to take a sledge to forcefully destroy a monument, someone else will be furious and just as willing to use force to save it. Yes, the past was violent. Nothing can change that. Its the present and future we can change.

Robert Bartlett

I love the history of New Mexico. Don't tear it down, build over it, or apologize for it. It is a museum and gallery of the human spirit, good and bad, but always inspiring.

Al Chavez

People who worry about the loss of history and culture should set their minds at ease.

Nobody's changing history. It's in so many books and articles and museum exhibits you would go blind reading them all. It's all about not treating with honor the despots of history.

That said, there's something to be said for preserving great artwork, as long as it's presented as representing notoriously bad people, not saintly explorers or historical figures.

There have been horrible, terrible, very bad people on ALL sides throughout history. As bad as the Spanish were here in NM too often, the Pueblo fighters were not exactly saints. During the Pueblo revolt for instance they killed 400 men *women and children.* Cutting feet off is undoubtedly cruel. Killing someone's kids is evil beyond belief, no matter who does it.

Lupe Molina

Indeed, history is now more complete than it's ever been. With journal databases and internet, historians now are able to complete more complete pictures of our past. That doesn't fix the anachronism problem: judging people of old by our current cultural standards. But in the case of Onate, he as condemned and banned from NM during his own lifetime, no reason to worship that maniac.

We don't still have statues to golden calves. We don't sacrifice goats and virgins to altars of pagan gods, but we know that history and we've learned more about it in past few decades than we did the centuries in between. Knowledge does not disappear with the removal of an obelisk or a statue.

And where does that argument end? Should we have kept up the gallows that Americans were lynched at so we don't forget that? Whether they are there now or not, we remember. We'll never be able to forget.

The fact is, we have distinctly different styles of monuments. Tearing down statues of bigots doesn't erase history but if we want to keep a physical representation of those memories, let's melt down the statues of the oppressors and their symbols and use that physical material to make a new monument that more accurately commemorates the event. Melt down Onate and make a memorial out of the brass for the genocide against indigenous people.

Al Chavez

Well said, Lupe.

Khal Spencer

I've no problem with taking down statues and monuments that glorify someone or something that has such a negative impact. But we need to do it by consensus. Onate, as you say, was banished by his own people. If there was good in him, I don't know about it and need to study history. If my ancestors had been massacred at Fort Pillow, I would not want to see a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest unless it was made into a urinal. Regardless of his brilliance as a cavalry leader.

There is a stone monument up at the dog park on the north side memorializing the location of the former detention camp for those of Japanese-American ancestry under E.O. 9066. It is a memorial, and the bronze plaque has the history. I suspect the same at Auschwitz-Birkenau or Treblinka.

Contrast a thoughtful discussion with the scene in Portland a few days ago when a statue of Thomas Jefferson was yanked down and pounded with a sledge hammer. Jefferson was a slave owner. He wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was the 3rd President. Like many historical figures, he was a combination of the best and worst things (and everything in between) he ever did. To me, destroying that statue was the act of supreme lunacy and the way that it was done was inciteful.

If we are going to solve problems rather than nurse grudges, we need to do better than pitch a sledge at a statue. That may be easy, but building a just society is hard. So we do the easy thing instead?

Nicoletta Munroe

Consider the learning tool of attending a city council meeting regarding the possible removal of the statue in Cathedral Park. Consider the history in the narrative of the obelisk in the Plaza. The city could present information on its website about the issues. Instead of corralling, defacing and destroying public property why not participate in a process. Bringing arms to a protest is counter the purpose of protest which is to bring attention to an issue. Protest is not a forum to claim rights to public property. If the obelisk on the Plaza represents a marker, then an historic lecture could be organized from academia to present the story of the obelisk so that we may learn from the discussion. Why will the city not organize a series of lectures on the issues? When the Estrada was cancelled the idea of a lecture series was quashed at the city level which cheated the public of the process of discussion.

Kathy Fish

I mean, but it is stolen land.

Barry Rabkin

Almost, if not all, of the US is 'stolen land.' The country's native's were conquered by people who had over-whelming force. That is reality. No amount of razing or hiding monuments negates that reality. The less powerful lost. That is a significant part of the history of this planet. ... Yes, it is stolen land. So what: the land is not going to be given back. Financial reparations are not going to be made.

Dr. Michael Johnson

Well said, and the pueblo people stole the land from those before them, and on and on, that is the story of human progress since Adam and Eve, and it will not stop with removing statues.

Al Chavez

But statues should not be used to glorify the despots of the past. Context is important. If you want history, then make it explicit and present it in a way that underlines the evil that was done. Good examples: two of the Smithsonian museums in D.C.—the Holocaust Museum and Af-Am museum.

Khal Spencer

Take it far enough and I guess we all better head back to Africa.

KT Rivera

Where are you from? Are you at all familiar with the history of this city?

Stefanie Beninato

I agree with William Craig. The obelisk is a great teaching tool---the word "savage" was removed in August 1974--a result of peaceful activism and the city 25 years later put the marker on the other side discussing the word Rebel. It is a wonderful tool for talking about change over time and why racial/ethnic bias/prejudice exists and is changed. The obelisk as I have stated several times is the zero point for the individual grants given within the town's land grant (mostly downtown/eastside) property... Moving the obelisk will raise questions later on about boundaries. People are still fighting over land titles and boundaries--just another reason for more argument. Leave it alone.

Dr. Michael Johnson

Yes, the hate-filled, roaming, violent mobs of cancel culture and erasing history will not rest until all historic memories of our great and diverse history have been removed. Orwell predicted it in "1984", now it is coming to pass unless the people rise up to stop this ignorance and racist hate.

Paul Davis

That's a deeply wrong misappropriation of Orwell's ideas. The handling of history and language in "1984" had nothing to with the attempts of historically oppressed groups to change things, but rather had everything to do with the powerful seeking to maintain their power. The erasing of history in "1984" was about hiding the truth of what those in power had done and were doing. The overwhelming majority of those opposed to statues of "controversial figures" want a more expansive, more nuanced, more inclusive history to gain visibility and accessibility. They want the list of historic memories to grow, not shrink. They want our history to be more diverse, not less.

The question remains whether it is possible do accomplish this while these statues remain standing as they do today. I personally am conflicted on this, but lean toward their being moved to locations where more context can be provided.

Carlos Vasquez


Carlos Vasquez


William Craig

The full URL for Elena’s petition is:

The name of De Vargas has already been removed from what is now called Milagro Middle School, although the name is still in place for De Vargas Center shopping mall and De Vargas Street near the Roundhouse — the little street is one of the last vestiges of the old Analco neighborhood that was mostly demolished in the 1950s and ’60s to make way for state office buildings and parking lots.

As for the obelisk on the Plaza, the offensive word “savage” was removed in the ’70s and an apologetic plaque added later, which should be enough already — ¡basta ya!

Preserving the past is a reminder of how much progress we’ve made. Replacing past monuments with empty space rings hollow.

Khal Spencer

Leave the obelisk up and write a new memorial to go with it. History is complicated.

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