ALCALDE—Members of the Red Nation, a Native American social justice and activist organization, had planned to hold a demonstration Monday in Northern New Mexico at the site of a long controversial 3-ton bronze statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate that some say included a plan to bring the monument down.

Instead, the rally was what local Red Nation leader Elena Ortiz called a celebration.

Hours before the event, a Rio Arriba County official had ordered the removal of the nearly 30-year-old statue to protect it from damage during the protest.

Scores of spectators gathered at the Oñate Monument Resource and Visitors Center along N.M. 68 in Alcalde, north of Española, to watch a forklift lower the massive statue from its perch. A county work crew then hauled it to storage.

“For the first time in many years, we don’t have to stare at Oñate,” said Ortiz, chairwoman of the Red Nation-Santa Fe’s Freedom Council. “The presence of that statue was an act of violence upon Pueblo people from the moment it was put up and now, finally, it’s gone.”

During the afternoon rally, a Rio Arriba County sheriff’s deputy got into a physical confrontation with one of the protesters. The woman was able to pull away from the deputy’s grasp, and the remainder of the rally was peaceful.

A similar event in Albuquerque, where a statue of the conqueror stands as part of a display outside the Albuquerque Museum, was marred by greater violence.

As protesters tried to remove the statue there, shots rang out and one man was wounded, KOB-TV reported.

Several members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, a self-described civilian militia, were arrested, the TV station reported.

Oñate led an effort to colonize what is now New Mexico, creating a settlement near the Ohkay Owingeh pueblo, not far from Alcalde, in 1598. While there are many people in Northern New Mexico who celebrate his legacy and can trace their family roots to Oñate, New Mexico’s first colonial governor, many others decry the violence he inflicted upon Pueblo people.

He ordered the feet cut off of 24 Acoma Pueblo men after his nephew was slain.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham hailed the county’s decision to remove the Alcalde statue in a Twitter post, calling it “a step in the right direction” toward understanding the state’s “complicated history” and the “imbalanced Power structures within it.”

But not everyone was pleased.

The statue’s removal was done without consultation from Ohkay Owingeh or residents of surrounding Hispanic communities, Pueblo Gov. Ron Lovato and state Rep. Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, said in a joint statement Monday.

“History is by its definition the past, we should learn from it, not try to erase it or think vindication comes by removing statues,” the statement said. “For hundreds of years, our communities have lived in harmony and continue to look ahead and plan to the benefit of the generations to come.”

A statement by the Rio Arriba County Commission, posted on Facebook, said County Manager Tomas Campos authorized the removal of the statue Monday morning, “based upon information that destruction or damage to the statue and County property” would occur at the demonstration.

The decision is not a final one for the monument, the statement said.

“Rio Arriba County residents need to understand that a final policy decision has not been made about the Oñate statue other than its removal today to protect it from damage or destruction,” the statement said. “The County Commission welcomes a respectful and civil discussion from its residents about the future of the Oñate statue.”

Campos later said he stood by his decision to remove the statue.

“It belongs to the citizens of Rio Arriba, and I did it to protect it,” he said.

The monument’s future will depend on a decision by the Rio Arriba County Commission, Campos said, adding people should contact the commissioners to offer their thoughts on what should become of it.

The two Oñate monuments are among many statues of controversial historical figures targeted in demonstrations across the nation in the last couple of weeks, leading to many being removed or toppled. The demonstrations are tied to protests that have erupted in response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died May 25 in police custody in Minneapolis. The protests have led to calls for reforms to end to police brutality and overhaul a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets minority people. Some protesters also have demanded a dismantling of other types of deep-rooted systemic racism.

Luis Peña, who had started an online petition calling on local officials to remove the statue in Alcalde, said it was removed because people had spoken out against it — not just for its protection.

As of Monday afternoon, his petition had more than 2,800 signatures.

“I think with the death of George Floyd, people are finding their collective voice and they’re finding solidarity with each other, and I think it is crossing racial and economic boundaries,” Peña said. “I think people out in the streets right now are not asking for justice but demanding it.

“This is one piece in a much larger puzzle of collective liberation of people.”

(32) comments

Nicole Panter Dailey

“Erasing history” seems a disingenuous argument. I guess you guys are unfamiliar with those things called books.

Emily Koyama

Oh, revisionist books, and banning of many others, will be coming next, bet on that.

Patricia Ortiz

Are we not making judgment from a 21th century perspective? Comments suggest that Onate instigated the situation, some call it a massacre, but it was an official war. Onate’s men had visited Acoma in good will, were invited to the mesa and were slaughtered to death by the Acoma’s. So one may say the battle was Onate’s revenge. War is violent whether in an ancient world or contemporary times. Onate is falsely judged for cutting off the foot of male Acoma’s but there is no written document as of 1599 except for Onate’s documents which is written as cutting off “las puntas del pie” or points of the foot or the toes, cruel as it was, but the world then was merciless. Why would Onate be atypical in a cruel world as he showed the same ferocity as the Acoma did upon violently killing Spaniards who visited Acoma in peace? The record shows the Acoma males became servants, however they were perform manual labor in a harsh land. How could they perform such on their foot stomp? They had been taken to San Juan Pueblo area, escaped, making their way back to Acoma, an impossible feat with missing feet. A cruel world it was, tribe against tribe in the Americas, violence was not unknown to the Indians upon European arrival. Onate is attributed for Spanish colonization in northern New Mexico. He brought the first European settlements to northern New Mexico and did not exterminate the Natives or exile them as the English did in the East Coast. Regardless of Oñate’s 16th /17th Century cruelties, some of his many credits are that the Pueblos are still in their ancient lands where the Spanish found them. They still practice their inherent religion and have preserved their language, unlike those Indians who met with Onate’s Europeans contemporaries and lost their lands and heritage. The Spanish and Indian have lived side by side for five centuries in northern N.M., learned from one another, allied again warrior Indians, developed relationships be it through marriage for friendships. Along come outsider, so called do-gooders or hateful activists, damaged the northern NM culture. Where is their social conscience?

Mike Johnson

Well said, and spot on. The historical fallacy so many have is called "presentism". Many academics in history have argued against it and the damage it causes. This is a good discussion of it:

Lupe Molina

No. Onate was judged a criminal and punished during his own life. The Crown, which was burning people alive for practicing other forms of Christianity, found it fit to exile him for life from New Mexico because of the atrocities he committed here. Also, I don't know what you hope to achieve by trying to make historical arguments alongside conspiracy

The picture you paint of a preserved Native America under Spanish rule is beautiful and totally false. Apart from the fact that the actual population of Native Americans was decimated (decimation is probably and underestimation) but their languages and religions were systematically dismantled. What the Spanish (and English and French) did was genocide and it didn't stop after Onate's exile.

Mike Johnson

I think everyone who has a preconceived notion of how the pueblos feel about this to read the letter from the Governor of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. It might give you some perspective.

HRH Prince Michael Jauregui

I commend Mr. Lovato and Mr. Martinez, respectively, for their powerful and truthful joint statement. Meanwhile, the inept, party-line serving Grisham dances the political Twist. Be clear, in one of the historically poorest states in U.S., Native American and Hispano American children must be taught their history in this nation, however imperfect. This, establishes the importance of the cultures and solidifies their identities. As a mixed Basque - Latino (Hispano/Siciliano), I was nearly 40-years-old before I learned of Spanish (Basque) Onate's First Thanksgiving on the banks of the Rio Grande - nearly a quarter of a century prior to the Pilgrims/Wampanoag celebration in 1621. This is not taught to our children in school, again, depriving them of their historical importance and identities. In the Southwest U.S. and Rocky Mountains, regardless of conflicted histories, Native Americans and Latino Americans have long integrated and bonded.

Both being fed, with the same -marginalizing- spoon.

Judith Senda

To everyone who says this isn’t the end, but a beginning, you are 100% correct. Without respect to any particular individual, for some truly were horrible people even by their own contemporary standards, as we look back from an ever enlightened perspective, everyone will have had faults that we cannot tolerate. So let’s remove every d*mn monument everywhere, and get it over with. This includes tombstones of soldiers who killed others in war.

On the other hand, I recall someone saying “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Though come to think of it, saying “he” is clearly misogynistic, and so we must tear down all crosses, raze Catholic Churches, and ban the wearing of crucifixes.

Jim Klukkert

Judith Senda- Snark, snark, snark!

All political blowhard, no fact.

Judith Senda

I’m getting tired of your harassment, Jim. If you have anything to say to me, here or elsewhere, I’m directing you to do so solely through through my attorney.

Jim Klukkert

Judith Senda- You wrote on June 14: “Lots of empty opinion. No fact. Tell Vladimir I’ll have more flexibility after the election.”

Please tell us how your comment was that much different than mine.

Your commentary seems devoid of earnest engagement, but does seem filled with invective, aimed at scoring ‘political points’ rather than seeking some larger understanding among divergent views.

For example on June 11: “You, David Ford, are a vile and disgusting person, calling for people to die.” I know that Mr. Ford veers into partisanship at times, but charging that he wants folks to die is way over the top.

Ms. Senda I see your writing as an attempt to clear the public square of civil and rationale discourse. I thought in my remarks today, my parody of your earlier remarks would remind you that what suits the goose might well serve the gander.

I am pretty sure that any courts would find my comments here covered under my freedom of speech, and I certainly hope I never have to speak to you elsewhere. I will be happy to cc' your attorney should you forward that contact to me.

Thank you.

Lupe Molina

Oñate had to go back to Mexico City after his conquest to answer to the Crown for his atrocities and was banned from New Mexico for life. This was while the Inquisition was burning people at the stake, for being, like, Anabaptisits. And they found Oñate too violent! Then he was returned to Spain and given a crappy desk job. Just like Columbus, he was actually a terrible leader. Why worship these guys? Or confederates? What's with America's obsession with losers?! Just because somebody cast something from bronze doesn't mean we should keep playing revisionist history after we've found out the real story. Melt him down, maybe keep his horse for something nice.

John Wilson

Some years back I jammed a sliver of wood deep under the skin of my hand. It was a regular irritation. It was painful at times. I knew it would come out eventually. A year later it finally did and I felt much better. The scar is still noticeable. I don't need to have it in there to remind me of my history. Better without.

Richard Reinders

On the most part the people of New Mexico got along well for 400 years, co mingling their races where there is a blend of cultures. This harmony has been turned upside down by the so called do gooders who stir the pot and pit one group against the other. When I came here 35 years ago their seemed to be a harmony and live and let live attitude that has been upset with transplants sticking their nose where it doesn't belong this is a local issue, let them work it out.

Patricia Ortiz

You are correct, this is the Red Nation and other outsiders who have damaged the culture in northern New Mexico.

Khal Spencer

Apparently in Portland, OR, the Red Guard tore down a statue of Thomas Jefferson. I wonder if anyone is pure enough for these well fed revolutionaries.

Arlo Barnes

I'd say "did you own human beings?" is a good rule of thumb.

Mike Johnson

Good point Khal. These protestors are not well educated or informed about history, another good example.......

Peter Romero

I guess all the Catholic churches are next.

Eslee Kessler

Bravo! These are amazing times! Why should we commemorate and literally elevate cultural oppression with monuments? I frankly hope they take down that ugly odelisk in the middle of the Plaza! More room for people to dance and enjoy our summer bandstand concerts !

Stefanie Beninato

The obelisk is a great talking point about racism, bigotry and prejudice. The removal of the obelisk will obscure history rather than using it as an example of change over time. I use it all the time with groups of tourists. The obelisk is also the zero point for HISTORIC grants in downtown and the eastside. People are still arguing over land grants--removing the obelisk gives them one more reason to continure arguing. Those who forget the past are bound to repeat it. Nonetheless I am surprised at the quick response from Espanola but I guess they don't want Onate's right foot cut off again. And BTW 600 Acomas jumped to their death during that battle rather than being taken into slavery by the Spaniards--that is beyond those males over 15 yo who had their right foots amputated. As one Hispanic priest said during my lecture on Leadership in the Pueblo Revolt when one member of the Hispanic Genealogical Society complained about the St Lawrence Day Massacre (10 Aug) "That was one day--what did we do for the 70 years prior?" All things in perspective

Patricia Ortiz

Speaking of racism, bigotry and prejudice you are all against descendants of Spanish colonizers here in the north which are none of your business. The peoples here in the north, Spanish and Indian had gotten along just fine, holding many bonds. Racism is something concocted by outsiders and activists like yourself who have caused dissentions. Your historical observations are incomplete as you use bits and pieces of the story or twist events. If I was a tourist I’d be doubtful of your view on the peoples of northern New Mexico, but sometimes Santa Fe is referred to as Santa Fake, for good reason… If as you say, 600 Acomas chose to jump their death during a battle, don’t fault Onate, as many just as well did not jump their death. Battle is cruel whether in Acoma or anywhere else. Furthermore, there is no record of Onate amputating the foot of the Acoma’s. The record shows it was the toes that were cut off, leaving them able servants. Why would Onate enslave and expect service from footless people. Oh, yes, you failed to mention that prior to the battle at Acoma, the Acoma’s slaughtered Spaniards who were traveling in the area and asked to visit Acoma. Little did they expect to be tricked into meeting such a cruel and violent death.

Richard Reinders

You are exactly what I am talking about, you don't have a dog in this fight.

Stefanie Beninato

I am not sure who you are responding to Richard, but as a long-time resident of color and as a historian I definitely have a "dog in this fight". And am I happy that the gun toting uninvited agitators/members of the NM CIVIL (not National) Guard were arrested in ABQ--less violent crazies out there.

Richard Reinders

Not you

Jim Klukkert

In Friday’s New Mexican, AP Journalist Morgan Lee wrote that

“To Native Americans, Oñate is known for having ordered the right feet cut off of 24 captive tribal warriors after his soldiers stormed Acoma Pueblo’s mesa-top ‘sky city.’”

This in fact is a gross undercounting of the dead and maimed at Acoma. According to Wikipedia, in the fight for Acoma, “500 Acoma men killed in a three-day battle, along with 300 women and children.” Of the survivors, “many were sentenced to 20 year enslavement and 24 suffered amputations.”

Wikipedia goes on “Males between the age of twelve and twenty-five were also enslaved for twenty years along with all of the females above the age of twelve. Many of these natives were dispersed among the residences of government officials or at Franciscan missions. Sixty of the youngest women were deemed not guilty and sent to Mexico City where they were ‘parceled out among Catholic convents’. Two Hopi men were taken prisoner at the pueblo; after each had one of his hands cut off, they were released to spread the word of Spain's might.”

Oñate was for his nation and fellow Catholics, a brave Explorer and Saver of Souls who would hopefully send back to Europe fabulous wealth. For the Indigenous Peoples of the lands he 'explored,' Oñate was an Invader, an Enslaver, a Murder and a Thief.

Any Monument to such a powerful person must tell all the stories, not just His Story. This is doubly so for Monuments put up at Public Expense. Though a better step might have been to add a significant retelling of the story of Oñate and Indigenous Peoples, partisans of Oñate have stalled for so long, that the time needed for a discussion of such steps has passed by.

I do hope the statute is placed for safe keeping, until it can again be displayed with appropriate contextualizing.

Khal Spencer

Well said, Jim. This should be the beginning of the conversation, not the end.

Jim Klukkert

Khal Spencer- Thank you for your kind words, Khal. And a much bigger thank you for your insight- "This should be the beginning of the conversation, not the end."

I think of the Hispanic gentleman from the other day on these pages, who wrote “From my perspective, Acoma does not compare with what the pueblo Indians did in 1680. They murdered 400 colonists, including women and children, and 21 friars. Victimhood is debilitating.”

That gentleman’s pain is as real as the Acomas, as well as other Indigenous Peoples.

We now should be able to clearly see that ethnic violence and racial prejudice is not just an American issue, but an issue world wide.

I agree with you that this should be the beginning of the conversation, and my hope if we can engage with civility and compassion, that conversation can lead us out of these difficult times into a great healing.

Thanks again.

Heather Nordquist

Jim and Khal, all good points. I have been watching the reactions on both sides of the spectrum today and I am not very hopeful that this "conversation" is about to start, but hope springs eternal!

Khal Spencer

I have a lot of respect for the voices discussing the Onate issue, as this is a very complicated discussion among, as we saw the other day, people of different and often mixed ancestry and different points of view.

Few aspects of human history are without bloodshed and conflict. We are here today in Northern New Mexico standing on the shoulders of a lot of good people, good progress, and terrible injustice and war all mixed together. We have to move forward with each other in good faith, not with anger towards each other due to stuff in the past that none of us can change. We can only change the future.

I'm a recent addition to the neighborhood and with no historical roots here, so I offer these comments as an outsider, for what they are worth. Better to temporarily store the monument rather than, as I saw in a video today, desecrate it as someone did the Jefferson statue up in Portland. What good will come of that escapes me.

Maryanne Adams

However, there is something amiss about comparing an uprising against the oppressors who have been mistreating, abusing, raping, murdering, suppressing the religion of entire groups of people all over the state, in which many of those oppressors were killed in the revolt, to coming in, killing significantly MORE of the oppressed than they killed in the revolt, as well as maiming, kidnapping, and enslaving an even greater number.

If one are a part of a system that is systematically and cruelly oppressing a bunch of other people, it shouldn't be all that surprising when they violently revolt.

Putting a memorial and statue of one of the head oppressors on the very edge of the homeland of some of the STILL disenfranchised and oppressed descendants of those subjugated peoples , how can it be meant as anything but disrespectful and offensive? A memorial and statue of Himmler erected on the outskirts of Jerusalem, or right next to a synagog would not be viewed with tolerance and and understanding.

Oñate was considered a traitor even to Spain, and his reign was SO cruel, bloodthirsty, and excessive of not only Natives, but even of the Spanish colonists, he was stripped of his post and banished from New Mexico for all time.

The matter is complex only because people choose to ignore the historical facts and make it complicated. Brutality, subjugation, maiming and murder are bad, period. Full stop.

I can guarantee you that of the boys from 12 on who were enslaved in Oñate's dictatorship, none were old enough to have been involved significantly in the uprising 12 years previous.

He destroyed basically Acoma Pueblo, killed over half of the Acoma people, enslaved more than half of the survivors of the massacres. This is simply NOT a complicated issue. His memorial and statue, erected by non-Pueblo people, do NOT belong on the edge of Pueblo land. It never did. It never will unless they are OK with it.

The fact that many (but by no means all) Hispanics and Catholics see him as a hero is irrelevant. There are people who see top third reich leaders as heroes as well. That doesn't mean they deserve adoration, respect, and memorials paid for by local, county, state, or governments. Sociopathic despots are sociopathic despots regardless of how inaccurate some people's understanding of history is.

Jim Klukkert

Maryanne Adams- Well said and insightful. Thank you for the distinctions you delineate. Well done[thumbup]

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