The sound of Julian Fragua’s drumming appeared to draw the people close.
Acting as the heartbeat of the Plaza for nearly a half hour, the drumming attracted dozens to the first dance of Sunday’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day ceremony.
It was a day of dance, of singing, of sharing Native American traditions and of honoring the trials and triumphs of ancestors, said Fragua, whose Oak Canyon Dance Group from Jemez Pueblo performed both a friendship and a buffalo dance for about 150 people.
“We dance and sing and uplift the spirits of our ancestors,” he said on the second day of the weekendlong event, held a year after the 33-foot Soldiers’ Monument was toppled at an Indigenous Peoples’ Day rally.
That 2020 event exposed divisions over an array of issues, such as honoring the past and acknowledging the need to respect the feelings of Native and other cultures that might find such monuments offensive.
This weekend, that toppling of the obelisk seemed to have been accepted as history — forgotten or, in some cases, not even known to a number of visitors.
The monument, dedicated in part to Civil War soldiers, had been a long-running source of controversy because of an inscription on one side honoring “heroes” who fought against “savage Indians.” The group destruction of that public work has become a major issue in this year’s mayoral race.
Although some were unfamiliar with last year’s events, the sentiments that had come to a head then were still present Sunday.
As the last of the dance groups performed in the sunshine-soaked afternoon, activist, author and The Three Sisters Collective co-founder Christina M. Castro spoke about the need to never forget and to look beyond the surface depictions of Native Americans in both Santa Fe and the broader cultural landscape.
“We want racist monuments to be gone from our city,” she said as about 40 people gathered to listen. Saying city officials do not want the truth of the toppling of the obelisk to be known, she urged visitors to pressure those officials to remove all such remaining public monuments.
“The onus is on you and us to teach the truth of America,” Castro said. “Take time to learn the true history of what American was built on.”
Several out-of-state visitors at the Sunday events said they had no knowledge of last year’s events.
Morgan Savage of Boston, who joined her 6-year-old daughter in participating in the all-inclusive group friendship dance, said she had just read about the history of the obelisk in Sunday’s newspaper before showing up at the Plaza.
“That’s all really hard,” she said, adding that she brought her daughter to the event to introduce her to Native American cultures.
And that, many in the Native American dance community said, is the main point of the holiday — which was celebrated as Columbus Day in Santa Fe until city and county officials voted to proclaim it Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Fragua, who displayed a dryly hilarious sense of humor in his presentations — he said his pueblo residents like to eat every part of the buffalo except the buffalo wings — immediately pulled members of the crowd into the initial dance, telling them it would be one of the few times they could take part in a Native dance.
“It’s a one-hour dance,” he joked after persuading a few dozen spectators to join in a circle for the dance. Then, after teaching them the basic two step of the piece and letting those folks try it out before the music started, he deadpanned, “You’re doing it all wrong.”
Dance they did, giving the morning celebration a communal shot of adrenaline.
“We want to let people know our traditional ways,” Fragua said after his troupe finished their two dance pieces.
Mangaysha Kallestewa of Zuni Pueblo, who led the Kallestewa Dance Group in two dances, echoed those sentiments, saying the dances remind people, “We were the first ones on the land.”
He found it amusing that shortly after his group performed the rainbow dance, asking for rain, a cold rain fell on the Plaza for about a half-hour. But the cold and wet snap of weather quickly passed, and by early afternoon, some 300 people had grouped to watch the remaining performances.
Shane Keene of the Sky City Buffalo Ram Dance Group from Acoma Pueblo said the dancers “bring good things, happy feelings, good thoughts” to the spectators.
He said the group’s dance prayers “are for everyone, wherever you come from.”