It started with some typical Santa Fe “feel good” activities — a walk through a labyrinth and a water blessing, simple actions accompanied by a soothing symphony of drums.
But the planned friendly meet-and-greet of members of the new Cultural, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth Process — known as CHART — soon segued into a contentious dialogue about the direction the CHART team plans to take to help the community heal and go forward after the destruction of the Soldiers’ Monument on Indigenous Peoples Day last year.
It was an event that proved community activism is alive and well in Santa Fe.
The questions came fast, and sometimes furiously, during the Sunday afternoon event at Frenchy’s Field.
It drew nearly 100 people, including city council members, CHART team members, CHART supporters and CHART critics — who asked plenty of questions.
Among those queries: Are the recommendations the CHART team plans to give the city next summer already determined? Why is the process costing $254,000? What are team members’ qualifications for their roles?
And, many opponents asked, how can they trust the CHART process when city leaders still won’t say where the Don Diego de Vargas statue is or whether it will be returned to its longtime home at Cathedral Park?
“Where’s our statue?” one woman in the crowd asked, suggesting the ghost of that structure might haunt the CHART process for some time.
The Don Diego de Vargas statue’s location remains a mystery to everyone but city officials. Removed last year from Cathedral Park next to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the bronze statue of conquistador Don Diego de Vargas was supposed to be placed in a safe location, but it was later found in the backyard of the contractor who removed it.
That news prompted the group that donated the statue, Caballeros deVargas, to ask the city to reinstall the statute in Cathedral Park or give it back to the organization.
CHART President Valerie Martinez maintained a sense of calm, allowing those with critical questions to ask them while doing her best to make it clear her group hasn’t even started its work.
“We’re here to listen,” she said. “We are not here to represent one or another’s view.”
Even as she patiently allowed those with concerns to raise questions, some in the assembly voiced a worry that no matter how well-meaning and qualified the CHART committee is, the jig is fixed.
“We feel left out,” one woman in the crowd said.
The atmosphere remained mostly cordial, with some activists telling Martinez that they don’t trust her or the CHART process.
“Some of us have a lot of pain because of things that have happened,” said Maria Bautista, a retired educator and critic of Mayor Alan Webber. “Some of us have nowhere to go to talk about it.”
She said it is vital for the CHART team to understand the anger in the community. She then urged critics to stay involved throughout the process.
“You don’t want them to run with the ball, then get involved and run with it,” she said.
Following the group discourse, Martinez and other CHART members met with small groups of both critics and champions to say the group plans a number of public meetings and focus groups, some targeted at specific audiences, such as seniors and teens, over the next several months to collect input.
They did not shy away from those who were outspoken about the process, listening to concerns and doing their best to address them.
CHART member Trace Rabern kept asking Elmer Maestas, a retired U.S. Navy veteran and historian, what message he wanted to convey to the CHART group as it plans those meetings.
He said she should be aware, “This is a cover-up for the mayor for all the problems he caused.”
Rabern said the CHART committee has to find a way to hear voices that are not “the loudest and most frequent.”
As the crowd began to disperse following the two-hour event, Martinez said the CHART team has to accept that “what happened today is OK with us.” She said the group has to learn how to “listen to the hard stuff.”
“People have to give us time,” she said.
The members, who are getting paid as contractors to move the CHART process forward, are expected to deliver a report by July, Martinez told the assembly.