The struggle over what Americans choose to memorialize, and how, has spread from the movement to take down Confederate flags to now include the removal of statues venerating slave owners, racists and conquerors.
A pair of filmmakers from the Santa Fe area is drawing comparisons between the city's interpretations of its own European resettlement, epitomized by the Entrada de Don Diego de Vargas during the Fiestas celebrations in September, and this broader movement to modify or abolish painful symbols of conquest and domination.
According to the film's director, Jaima Chevalier, the documentary Veiled Lightning began as an examination of Native American artists who take inspiration from the 1680 Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish settlement at Pecos led by the medicine man Po'pay. As they began filming, they realized the uprising has resonance with resurgent Native American activism today.
An abridged version of the film was screened for the first time in early June at the New Mexico History Museum. Chevalier says she and her team have since received death threats because of its provocative content.
"The climax of the story is really what's happening today in protesting the whole situation around the Fiestas Entrada," Chevalier tells SFR. "That ended up being the exclusive news coverage we had, because that wasn't being followed by the dominant media."
At times, the improvised development of the film is apparent. Much of it consists of interviews with Indigenous artists and academics, and to a lesser extent, activists. Some are Pueblo people whose families take issue with the depiction of Spain's resettlement of Santa Fe in 1692.
Co-producer Ashley Browning, who grew up in the Pojoaque Pueblo, considers the Pueblo Revolt to be the first anti- colonial revolution to happen on American soil. She recalled as a child when dancers associated with the Fiestas would come perform at her school.
"I thought, 'That's nice, they look pretty,' but looking at it now it's very different," she says. "And knowing about the Pueblo Revolt and the history of it all … it gets me to where, why don't we have other fiestas that celebrate Native culture, or other talks about it all around?"
Elena Ortiz, a film subject from Ohkay Owingeh, who participated in a protest against the Entrada last year, echoed Browning's complaints.
"Very early I learned. My father would say Fiestas is not for us," Ortiz says. "When I got older, I simply refused to have anything to do with it, and I wrote letters to the newspaper, I talked to teachers at high schools about alternative narratives; but it really started affecting me when I had my own kids and saw they were going through it, and I remembered how it made me feel."
Ortiz and her daughter are now involved in efforts to abolish the Entrada. Also part of the effort are Jessica Montoya and her husband, Anastacio Trujillo. Both were elected to represent the "Spanish Princess" role and Don Diego de Vargas, respectively, in past Entrada productions, but now they see it as a celebration of conquest.
Montoya says that last year she met with the mayor as well as the Fiesta Council about the possibility of having the group Tewa Women United give a presentation on inter-generational trauma among Native people at this year's Fiesta. Although they mayor was receptive at the time, she says, nothing ever came to fruition.
"If the Caballeros de Vargas [the group that writes the script and choreographs the Entrada production] don't listen now, it's guaranteed this year the protests are going to be even louder and bigger. Because not only are local Natives upset about this, the whole world is watching now," she says.
A woman named Jennifer Marley from the San Ildefonso Pueblo looped Montoya into the organizing effort. Marley, an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico, has helped lead efforts to organize against the Entrada as a member of the Red Nation, a coalition of Indigenous activists "dedicated to the liberation of Indigenous peoples from colonialism."
This year, Marley says, the Red Nation plans to broaden its message beyond the abolition of the Entrada, including the protection of Chaco Canyon from fracking.
"I think a lot of energy has been accumulating ever since the [the Dakota Access Pipeline], especially among Pueblo people, which was actually surprising to me," Marley says. "Ultimately this is a struggle for ... Native life and land is constantly disregarded by both political actors and the general public, especially in a place like Santa Fe, which is on Pueblo land."
The demands of the film subjects have not been well-received by the Santa Fe Fiesta Council, whose president, Dean Milligan, considers the Red Nation to be a group of agitators from out of town. He says he is willing to sit down and speak with anybody in order to avoid protests, but is not amenable to abolishing the event.
"We've been celebrating this for 305 years. Why all of a sudden are these people, people not from here, coming and protesting? They don't understand it," he says. "We have got the Native Americans involved in everything in Fiestas, and if they were so upset with us, do you think they'd participate in it?"
Mayor Javier Gonzales says the city has "encouraged" dialogue between tribal leaders of the Tesuque Pueblo and the Fiesta Council, but maintains that the city's role is limited to reimbursing the council up to $50,000 through a lodger's tax for costs associated with the Fiestas event.
"I don't believe that the Entrada can be compared to what happened in the South, [but] I do believe there are statues around Santa Fe that were put up to celebrate Manifest Destiny and the conquering of a very peaceful people, that I think we need to confront what those symbols mean in our community by keeping them up," the mayor tells SFR by phone.
Chevalier says she and Browning will begin a film circuit for Veiled Lightning shortly, hitting up mostly New Mexico- or Native-focused festivals. A public showing of the film's final cut is planned at the New Mexico History Museum on Wednesday Sept. 6, to be followed by a community conversation about the Entrada hosted at the museum.
The Entrada production is scheduled to happen two days later, on Friday Sept. 8.
Correction: Jessica Montoya was previously elected to represent the role of the Spanish Princess, not the Indian Princess.