Conquistador Don Diego de Vargas covered a lot of ground in his life — leaving Spain for Mexico and ending up in New Mexico as he led Spanish settlers back to Santa Fe after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.

For those actions, he is a hero to some and symbol of colonialism to others. His statue — in Cathedral Park since 2007 — was removed last year after his presence on city property became controversial given de Vargas’ role in leading attacks against Native people.

At the time the statue was removed, the nation was embroiled in protests and debates over racial justice; discussing how to heal past wounds and reconsidering just which historical figures deserve a statue.

For much of that nation, the debate focuses on slavery, the Confederacy and honoring those many believe were traitors to the U.S.

In New Mexico, as Native activists reminded everyone, the role of Spanish settlers has been romanticized, with the damage done to Indigenous peoples glossed over. The return of de Vargas in 1692 is heralded as “bloodless” by many, avoiding the reality of the bloody battles against the Pueblo people that followed.

Amid that atmosphere, Mayor Alan Webber ordered in June the statue be moved for safekeeping.

Boy, has it been safe. So safe, the city of Santa Fe didn’t know where it was. Turns out, the contractor who removed the statue simply took it with him, keeping it until the city told him what to do. A city employee charged with finding a place for it on city property failed to follow through, and his boss did not ascertain the whereabouts of the statue. Neither employee nor boss — former Parks Director John Muñoz — work for the city anymore.

The contractor put the statue away and only recently placed it outside, where it was visible. Former City Councilor Ron Trujillo and his wife, Amber, drove to the still undisclosed location, confirmed the statue was there and took a photograph as proof.

De Vargas — a statue built for the outdoors — seems just fine.

However, it does not speak well of city procedures and follow-up — with the buck stopping at the mayor’s desk — that no one realized de Vargas was out of city hands.

It’s one more misstep in what should be a success for Santa Fe, a decision by the city to expand how its story is told and who gets to be part of the narrative. It’s also bad timing.

After months of delay, the city-backed process to consider how to share its rich, multicultural history is ready to start. On Monday, the City Council’s Finance Committee endorsed a $62,000 budget adjustment request; the money would pay a consultant to coordinate the Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth process.

That’s the unwieldy name for what is designed to be a community conversation — with actions to follow — about how Santa Fe can confront its history while respecting different points of view and bringing diverse voices to the table. The discussions are long overdue, and we hope they start by considering what temporary measures can be taken to beautify the Plaza.

In October, another monument — the obelisk in the center of the Plaza — was taken down by force on Indigenous Peoples Day. It was one of three, along with the de Vargas statue and the Kit Carson monument, the mayor had promised to remove in June.

Kit Carson sits on federal property and the city has little say over it. Activists took the obelisk’s removal into their own hands; what remains is unattractive. Something temporary, inexpensive and inviting should be in place for warmer months.

That leaves de Vargas.

The Caballeros de Vargas, the group that tends his legacy, donated the statue to the city. Members say they want it back. The Caballeros — including Trujillo, an unsuccessful mayoral opponent of Webber’s in 2018 — should be at the table when the Santa Fe story is discussed during the CHART process.

For the moment, de Vargas is safe. Now, store him properly until his future is determined.

(23) comments

Nicoletta Munroe

Regarding discussion of the De Vargas monument, the Plaza obelisk, and the federal obelisk, they are each separate politically, yet are unified in that they are hated. Reading the comments, I find not only are monuments hated, there is also misogyny in our quiet town. Attacking one another, and monuments will not solve our issues. Historians value the record, read, and if there is a law degree there, they navigate the law. I read Great River, the historic novel that describes the re-conquest. The novel describes De Vargas as part hero and part tyrant. De Vargas used the Palace of the Governors as a hub exhibiting malice toward the Indigenous population. Read carefully--there is no excuse for misogyny. The behavior in these comments pages of the newspaper is at times a form of colonialism when a powerful group aligns against the lone individual. Remember the law when you write comments because when you write a statement, your statement could be used in court against you.

Joe Brownrigg

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Stefanie Beninato

BTW Amber your ignorance is showing. I am not WHITE. I am mixed race and mixed ethnicity including Hispanic. Get over yourself!!! And you are so wrong about Pueblos not wanting a place at the table--I am sure there is a mixed reaction among pueblo cultures about whether participation will get them anywhere when Ronnie only wants to talk about Hispanic contributions.

Daniel Valdez

The TRUTH is that prior to the Spanish landing on north american soil, some native american tribes held other native american tribes as slaves. Of course, nobody ever mentions this. The same is true for african tribes prior to the slave trade.

Joe Brownrigg

You are only partially right. "Slavery" by indigenous tribes and by Africans was a different type of "slavery" than the type practiced in the United States. Our White Supremacy led us to make "slavery" an almost eternal "ownership." A child born to an African "enslaved" woman automatically became a slave for life, unless someone "bought" them and set them "free." Even then, they were subject to White trackers who could capture them and return them to a status of "enslaved." The "slavery" by indigenous persons was only for a limited time; and they could be "rescued" by their own tribe. The White system of "slavery" was infinitely more brutal and lasting.

Daniel, the presence of enslavement by almost all peoples is a well-known fact. So it is not a case of "nobody ever mentions" it. AND there were different types of "enslavement."

Daniel Valdez

Nonetheless, you prove my point that slavery is slavery regardless of time and/or limited time...AND... slavery does not exist among the Spanish and Native Americans in modern America. Therefore, there is no need to denigrate the Spanish people and culture of NM. So exposing the Spanish is just as important as pointing out those Native American tribes that held other natives as slaves. Time for some equality and truth. Stop trying to BS by insinuating that there was good slavery and bad slavery based on time. We should just be fair and expose ALL sides of the story.

Joe Brownrigg

You missed the point. "Slavery" comes in vastly different forms.

Joe Brownrigg

"Nevertheless"???

"Slavery" is not "slavery" in the sense that there are MANY types of slavery. Reconstruction and the new Jim Crow and the "school to prison" pipeline are indications that enslavement of Black Africans has never ended.

Finally, I have never denigrated Spanish persons. It is an insult that you suggest this.

There is plenty of miscarriages of justice to go around and precious little equity or justice. So let's build a bit more equity and justice.

Khal Spencer

Have to agree. The slavery practiced by the colonizers of the Western Hemisphere (British, Spanish, any others?) was based on the notion that Blacks were essentially Untermensch, to use that Godforsaken term, and could be kept, bought, sold, traded, etc. as property and for eternity as one generation succeeded another. Whataboutism in this case seems to be insulting to us as humans.

Daniel Valdez

The fact that slavery ENDED is proof that these slaves and their generational offspring were not kept/sold/traded for "ETERNITY".

Khal Spencer

You obviously missed something important. We fought the bloodiest war (per capita deaths of U.S. citizens) to end slavery. Dredd Scott meant it would have gone on unless it became unprofitable.

Joe Brownrigg

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Stefanie Beninato

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Khal Spencer

Hey, de Vargas knew the mob was after him so he hid out, not even telling the Mayor or anyone in city government where he was hiding. Amiright?

As far as the new committee? I have a short and sweet title for it: CEP, aka Committee to Erase the Past.

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Lupe Molina

Sorry, ma'am but the Pueblos certainly do seem want to be involved. After all, a genocide was committed against their ancestors.

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Stefanie Beninato

Talk about a Catholic against Hate, Amber. There is no hate in my statement--just facts and opinion. Much less than the vituperative name calling and put-downs of you and your spouse. I guess if you don't use the word hate than disparaging personal attacks are OK in your eyes. I am not the former political officer holder positioning himself for another run. Again if your hubby wants to fulfill the requirements of CHART (attend all 3 meetings) then of course he has earned his place. Heading an organization does not give him a place at the table. The rules apply to all--even Ronnie.

Stefanie Beninato

Why give one person who is obviously trying to keep his name in the news a given right to a place at the table that forms at the end of the CHART process? If that person shows up as per process, great. Otherwise we owe it to other organizations to require their place at the table--just what the CHART process was supposed to avoid. And it is not all about monuments--it includes reconciliation which is not a theme employed often by the former city councilor/failed mayoral candidate--except when he was running for mayor.

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Stefanie Beninato

Ronnie Your attacks are unfounded. I am going to try to make all three discussions so I have a chance to be at the table. I suggest you do the same. You are the one who is xenophobic and angry. You have no idea what I have done to accomplish change because I don't try to get newspaper coverage to position myself for another run at a political office. Remember you only won your first election by ONE vote and you had no opposition on the second--probably because most people know how hard it is to run against an incumbent. You lost the mayoral campaign even given rank choice voting when those backing other "locals" could have ranked you second but apparently chose not to. You have attacked me personally ever since I disagreed with you about Fuego being a positive contribution to this town. You even attacked me from the Council podium. Your us v them attitude is well known, Ronnie. You are hardly someone would look to for reconciliation of cultural differences.

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Dennis Martinez

I agree with you Mr.Trujillo. I being a native Santa Fean feel that our history is important. There were wrongs in all sides back then. We have gotten over that and hold no hard feelings. I hope to keep our history alive for our kids and grandkids. It is pure vandalism for anyone to go remove any statues or memorials from a public place. Maybe you can run again for mayor. I appreciate what you do for us Santa Feans. It turns out many/most of us are Hispanic and Native American. That what my DNA shows for my family. Cmtz

Al Chavez

History is complicated. To put all the blame on one side vs. the other side oversimplifies it and runs the risk of mischaracterizing history.

Cancel lies. Cancel exaggerations. Explain the truth. Celebrate art.

Patrick Brockwell

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Joe Brownrigg

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