Santa Fe has joined a growing list of cities that recognize and celebrate indigenous people on Columbus Day, a federal holiday that some say honors an explorer who triggered genocide.
The City Council on Wednesday approved a resolution declaring the second Monday in October, or what traditionally is Columbus Day, as Indigenous Peoples Day in Santa Fe.
The 8-0 vote came just weeks after a public clash between Native and Spanish cultures during the Fiesta de Santa Fe, when raucous demonstrators disrupted a ceremonial re-enactment of Spaniard Don Diego de Vargas’ reconquest of the city in 1692.
The resolution, sponsored by Mayor Javier Gonzales and Councilors Chris Rivera and Peter Ives, states that the city “recognizes that Santa Fe is built on the homelands and villages of the indigenous peoples of this region, without whom the building of the city would not have been possible.”
Gonzales, who is working to improve relations between the city and surrounding pueblos and tribes, wasted no time sharing the news, posting it on Facebook after the vote and then sending a letter to tribal leaders Thursday.
“We are proud to be part of a national movement to honor the importance of Native culture and history, and we hope that many other cities will follow suit,” Gonzales wrote in the letter.
He also wrote that the city will recognize Indigenous Peoples Day this year and that it looks forward to working with tribal leaders “to create a planned annual celebration that welcomes representatives of the Tribes, Nations, and Pueblos in New Mexico who would like to participate.”
“We envision a celebration that would include dancers, drummers, singers, musicians and storytellers who wish to join us in commemorating this special day,” possibly on the historic Santa Fe Plaza or the courtyard of the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, he wrote. “We would greatly welcome your thoughts and ideas on this in the upcoming year.”
Charlene Teters, a Native American activist and academic dean at the Institute of American Indian Arts, said the council’s resolution “makes sense.”
“They’re in Indian Country, aren’t they?” she said. “They’re surrounded by Native people, and certainly in New Mexico we are not a minority. We are one of the major communities here. I think that more and more organizations and government entities are looking at and moving away from celebrations of conquest because there’s always two sides to conquest.”
Teters said Columbus remains a controversial figure in history.
“Columbus has become really politicized because, within the educational system, they always begin with the discovery of America in 1492 as if nothing happened before,” she said. “It gets marked in time as the beginning of colonization and Manifest Destiny and so forth. It has forever been kind of marking in time the beginning of that process without looking at who was here before. Many, many different nations were here before who didn’t survive that process.”
City spokesman Matt Ross said the city will continue to recognize Columbus Day as a federal holiday.
“The city doesn’t have the power to change that, and of course individually people will do what they choose to do,” Ross said. “What it means for us is that on that day, as far as the city itself is concerned, we will be actively recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day locally while acknowledging the federal holiday of Columbus Day.”
J.R. Palermo, an Italian-American who owns Tiny’s Restaurant and Lounge on South St. Francis Drive, said he doesn’t see anything wrong with the city’s declaration.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans. And when you’re in Santa Fe, you better respect the locals and their forefathers and ancestors,” he said.
Kevin Caira, president of the Commission for Social Justice for the Order Sons of Italy in America, said the organization is not opposed to an Indigenous Peoples Day.
“Just not one that replaces Columbus Day, a longstanding Federal Holiday,” he wrote in an email. “The Italian-American community celebrates its history, culture, and contributions every year on Columbus Day and throughout the month of October.”
During Wednesday’s council meeting, Councilor Joseph Maestas called the resolution “timely” given that it came on the heels of this year’s Entrada, a dramatization that protesters said painted a rosy picture of what was a tumultuous time in the city’s history.
“I think that we all need to recognize that we’re a mix [of cultures], and we have to live together in harmony,” said Maestas, who added his name as a co-sponsor of the resolution. “This should mark the beginning of that dialogue, and I think that it needs to happen right away.”
Gonzales said the resolution “goes beyond the recent conversations that have been taking place.”
“The DNA of this community is very much rooted in the indigenous culture, and the resolution is meant to reflect that and to build upon it,” he said.
Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 505-986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.