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 change.org 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.
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.