Roughly 50 protesters crowded toward the stage, tightly encircled by police, during the Fiestas annual reenactment of Don Diego de Vargas’s reconquest of Santa Fe. They chanted “Abolish the Entrada,” “The Entrada is racist,” and “1680” throughout the laying down of arms and recitation by friars. They’d already marched around the Plaza once, and stood to greet De Vargas as he arrived on horseback, calling out the fact that Santa Fe was built on Native land; that anytime you dig under the buildings downtown, the remnants of previous people and traces of it serving as former battleground are unearthed.
Their demands include ending the Entrada, ending the Fiesta court’s visits to schools, teaching an alternative view of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and the Spanish return in 1692, and cutting off city funding for a religious event they see as a violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state.
“This needs to change because this is indigenous land, and the fact that it’s indigenous land that has been occupied violently is a historical fact and it’s an ongoing condition that’s a violation of fundamental human rights,” says Melanie Yazzie, Navajo/Diné member of the protest. “Indigenous people have been silenced and that needs to change because we’re everywhere, and we’re never going to go away. This is who we are, and we belong here, and everybody needs to recognize that and respect it.”
“We don’t have an issue with Zozobra, we don’t have an issue with the Pet Parade,” says Elena Ortiz, who had printed t-shirts and signs that read, “In the spirit of Po’Pay,” the leader of the Pueblo Revolt.
“The issue is the Entrada, the revisionist history and what was really the subjugation of Pueblo people. We want it to end,” she says. “What we’re trying to do is not deny a pride in Spanish history and Spanish culture. What we’re trying to do is make Fiestas more inclusive, welcoming and palatable for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, culture and country of origin, and to do it, we really have to decolonize it.”
University of New Mexico student Jennifer Marley led the protest chants and marchers. With an eye to the organizing underway in North Dakota to stop the construction of a crude oil pipeline the Standing Rock Sioux tribe says has already disturbed burial grounds—for which she also recently helped to coordinate an event that more than 300 people attended—she called the occasion profound and historic.
“This is a pivotal moment for the Native movement all around the world,” Marley tells SFR. “It’s only going to grow from now on.”
Of course, the effort to adjust the historic celebration wasn’t entirely welcomed by the crowd gathered to watch it, some of whom chanted back, “Que Viva!” and “Viva la Fiestas!” When protesters chanted “Abolish the Entrada!” Gloria Mendoza shouted back, “Never.”
She challenged the divisiveness the protest might generate between Spanish and Native Americans.
“We were the first ones to assimilate with Native Americans,” she says. “That’s what Santa Fe is all about—assimilation, and we accept any culture that comes here.”
And why continue the Entrada as has been done?
“This has been happening for years and years. This is our history and we want to celebrate that,” she said. “Before they make any changes, I’ll have all of New Mexico here.”
Two others took their messages to signs, one declaring, “You have Spanish surnames!” and the second, “De Vargas protected Puebloan kiva faith. Viva la Fiesta!”
“I think when people really take some time to learn the history of New Mexico, they would have a little different attitude than these anti-de Vargas protesters,” says Richard Polese, bearer of the latter sign. “When de Vargas came back, yes, it was a military takeover. He wanted it peaceful. Didn’t turn out entirely that way when he returned a year and a half later, but many of the Pueblo people did welcome his return because of the beginning of the incursion of the people from the plains, the Navajo and Apache people.”
Peaceful or not is beside the point, protesters say.
“De Vargas is memorialized and glorified because he epitomizes the agent of conquest, that’s really who he is,” Yazzie says. “It doesn’t matter whether or not people consider it to be peaceful or violent, it was colonialism and it was conquest and it was a much larger process of eliminating native people, dispossessing them of their land, killing them and making it so that they could not live their sacred way of life anymore, and we’re rising up and saying ‘No more.’ It’s really simple.”
“Today is about multiple truths being able to happen at the same time,” Corrine Sanchez, of San Ildefonso Pueblo, told the Monte del Sol Charter School students squeezed into a school room. They gathered for a presentation about the Native half of the Fiestas story held the day before the Entrada.
There’s evidence of Native people in this land for 25,000 years.
“We still have some of the same songs that were sung at that time. We still have the same language,” Beata Tsosie-Peña of Santa Clara Pueblo said. “The reason that culture and history has survived is that we also have a culture of resistance.”
That Tewa people have been here since “time immemorial” is a tough concept to wrap your head around, she explained, so she illustrated seven generations of her family instead—five of whom were alive when she was born—passing a basket filled with corn to represent the traditions and values that endure, and a bag filled with rocks, for the weight of oppression and violence each generation passes along. That oppression, she argued, appears in the form of alcoholism, abuse and suicide. Suicide is the second most common cause of death for Native Americans aged 10 to 34; for the group beginning at age 35, chronic liver disease claims that spot.
The legacy celebrated each year, she explained, is one that young Native people inherit as a sense of shame and displacement. In short, the history celebrated in Fiestas is not one she wants to pass on to her future children.
“This time that we’re talking about, Fiesta, is about celebrating just one moment in history that may be one people’s truth. It is not all people’s truth. And what we’re asking for is that we be able to tell history, or herstory, in a more accurate, more open way,” Sanchez said. “Because part of this piece of the historical trauma is that as we enact this one piece of the history, we’re opening and continuing to open those wounds that existed for people.”
Passing on just one perspective is a way of continuing colonization, Tsosie-Peña said.
Elena Ortiz, who was present at the march and had helped recruit Sanchez and Tsosie-Peña to speak at Monte del Sol, says they’re trying to open a dialogue: “If we don’t get anything, like happened last year, we’ll be here the same time next year.”