As we look back on the social justice movements and tumultuous events across the globe in 2020, it feels like so much has changed, yet here in northern New Mexico, we are still facing some of the very issues Indigenous people were addressing then and have been for hundreds of years. A year ago, in the state capital of O’ga Pogeh, Santa Fe, we saw the Soldier’s Union Monument come down on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 12, 2021, with the combined efforts of at least a hundred people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. There are currently eight people charged in the destruction of the concrete obelisk erected in 1867, bearing the offensive tagline, To the heroes who have fallen in the various battles with the Savage Indians in the territory of New Mexico.
For nearly 50 years Indigenous people have been vocally asking for the removal of this monument to genocide. It has fallen on deaf ears, in spite of the Santa Fe City Council unanimously approving its removal in 1973 and more recently Mayor Webber’s public declaration of the imminent removal of three racist monuments in the downtown area in June of 2020. To date, only one of those monuments came down at the hands of the city, the De Vargas statue in Cathedral Park. The Kit Carson Obelisk, two blocks north of the plaza continues to stand proudly, albeit enshrouded by a plywood barrier with posted signage stating anyone caught tampering with the monument will be subject to federal prosecution. The remaining base of the Soldier’s Union Monument in the Santa Fe Plaza is now covered by a brown washed box, adorned by colorful flower pots and an expensive and wordy sign that vaguely addresses what lies behind said box. The truth of the matter is, there will never, ever be enough flowers to cover the stench of sanctioned genocide, yet the city must maintain it’s “tricultural myth” as not to disrupt the comfort of tourists’ delicate constitutions. The dehumanization of Indigenous people continues.
Since the late 1800’s the state capital has worked diligently to commodify Indigeneity and make it marketable to the masses. The backbone of the economy here and across our state is Indigenous culture, food, aesthetics and of course artistry. To be Indigenous in the Santa Fe plaza means you can sing, perform cultural dances, or sell your wares under the portal as you get breathed down on by Texas tourists who often refuse to wear masks. I have painfully learned that anything outside of the prescribed aforementioned activities is not acceptable and you will be quickly reprimanded, if not arrested. The plaza continues to be a contested space, exemplified by the looming police camera in the plaza and the constant police presence.
Looking back in time, it is crucial to understand the Santa Fe Plaza as it existed before the American occupation. It looked and operated very much like a traditional Pueblo plaza; a wide-open space for community gatherings, ceremonies and trading. The park-like habitat you see now, complete with imported grass and invasive trees is a far cry from the brown dirt that preceded it. Pueblo historian and scholar Dr. Porter Swentzell (Khapo Owingeh) asserts that the obelisks were in fact forms of architectural violence committed against the inhabitants of O’ga Pogeh, accompanied by the looming cannons that sat above the town at Ft. Marcy, ready to blow the whole area to smithereens if we did not comply with the new nation-state. We can also look further back into OURstory (not their story or history) to the traumatic events that led to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, where spiritual leaders of our pueblos were captured and taken to the Santa Fe Plaza to be hung in a public announcement that to resist Spanish colonialism would result in a similar fate.
So here we are: the week of Indigenous Peoples Day is once again upon us. New Mexico continues to have the highest rate of MMIWGT2S in the nation. Is there a correlation between racist monuments and this epidemic? I think yes. I want to know when we as Indigenous people can feel safe in our own communities. I want to ask when we will no longer be dehumanized by archaic symbols of our erasure. I want to know when Mayor Alan Webber will rise to the occasion like he so boldly proclaimed he would do last year, citing the need to be on the right side of HIStory. I want to know when White allies will demand the city take down the rest of these monuments, or in fact take the task into their own hands and catch a case if need be. It’s not our responsibility as Indigenous people to do the dirty work of cleaning up the mess that is their colonial legacy.
Personally, I do not wish to merely survive, which is sadly the goal when 1 out of 3 Indigenous women will be victims of violent crime. I want far more than this system affords us. My work with Three Sisters Collective, a grassroots Indigenous women-led organization I co-founded in 2017 revolves around making sure there are safe spaces for my beautiful and dynamic Indigenous daughter and others like her, the children of my exceptional comrades and colleagues who have excelled in spite of all odds against us, to be able to thrive in all their Indigenous multiplicities; something I’ve learned the dominant culture will never have the capacity to acknowledge or celebrate. They just don’t know how. Nevertheless, the work continues.
The Pueblo Revolt never ended!