Against Conquista

Santa Fe considers its own monuments to the past as Confederate statutes fall elsewhere

As municipalities across the nation remove or consider removing Confederate statutes, Santa Feans are contending with the city's own legacy of conquest that extends two centuries further back.

Around 30 cities have sought to bring the monuments down since white nationalists brawled with protesters ostensibly to prevent the removal of a Robert E Lee statue over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. When a neo-Nazi sympathizer killed a woman at the counterprotest, it accelerated the pace of removals.

Santa Fe County only has one monument explicitly dedicated "in loyal memory" to Confederate fighters. It stands along Highway 50 between Glorieta and Pecos and was erected in 1939 by the Daughters of the Confederacy, which built the majority of Confederate memorials across the nation.

Neither City of Santa Fe nor Santa Fe County officials had responded by publication time to indicate which government body had the power to remove it.

On Thursday night, Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales announced in a news release that he had directed the city manager to put together "a report or a timeline for a report" that includes, among other things, all city property on which memorials, monuments or markers of historic events or people stand.

The mayor's statement also mentions he would "continue leader-to-leader dialogue" with tribal leadership. But Matthew Martinez, 1st Lt. Gov. of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, says he and other tribal leaders haven't heard from Gonzales.

"None of us have received any call or contact from the mayor's office," he tells SFR. "I'm kind of unclear what direction the mayor's office is going to go in, and tribal leaders are available to come to the table whenever we get that opportunity."

In June, Gonzales shared his thoughts with SFR on two specific, post-Civil War-era monuments in the city: The obelisk in the Plaza dedicated to Union soldiers who fought Confederate soldiers and Native Americans, and the obelisk on Federal Place, outside the Santiago E Campos United States Courthouse dedicated to Kit Carson, a frontiersman who brutalized thousands of Navajo people in New Mexico.

"I do believe that there are statutes around Santa Fe that were put up to celebrate that history of Manifest Destiny, that conquering of a very peaceful people, that I think we need to confront what those symbols mean in our community by keeping them up," Gonzales said at the time. "Those two symbols that [are] clearly, I think, these ever-present reminders of a time and period that Native Americans were not treated respectfully, where their homelands were taken for the sake of growing the United States. They were treated inappropriately."

It's unclear how popular removing either one would be with Santa Feans. Paloma Collier pushed in a Facebook post on Wednesday to remove the Plaza obelisk. The post had dozens of supportive shares and comments by Thursday evening.

The Plaza obelisk is part of the Santa Fe Plaza, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in December 1960 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places of in October 1966. In theory, says Steven Moffson, the state and national register coordinator at New Mexico's Registers of Cultural Properties, the city could probably remove the obelisk without jeopardizing the Plaza's status as a national landmark.

"The Plaza is significant as an open public space," he says. "That's its primary significance, and its association with earliest development of the city of Santa Fe. The obelisk came much later."

The same circumstances apply to the Kit Carson obelisk, which, along with the federal courthouse, are included within the Santa Fe Historic District downtown. The historic district, which includes the Plaza and the Palace of the Governors, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Similar to today, Native activism has long been at the forefront in advocating for statue removal. The first major push to remove the Plaza obelisk came in 1973, when members of the American Indian Movement submitted a letter to then-Governor Bruce King asking him to take it down. The City Council passed but then quickly rescinded a resolution to remove the obelisk that summer; instead, a marker was added to "blunt the wording" of the monument soon after. The next year, an unknown person chiseled the word "savage" off the structure.

The demand for historical accountability from the Native community in and around Santa Fe complicates the mayor's contention that only two monuments deserve a critical review. For some Native Americans here, the thought of honoring Spanish men who conquered Pueblo lands and decimated their populations is just as abhorrent as honoring Confederate slavers.

"I think [Spanish conquest] doesn't resonate as much in the national press as the Confederate statues because the Confederate statues represent something that this nation went through as a nation," says Elena Ortiz, a member of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. "But it is as important and as painful a past for the Indigenous communities in New Mexico, in that these individuals represent a colonization and an oppression and a genocide, an attempted genocide of Native communities."

Ortiz, who also organizes protests against the annual Entrada de Don Diego de Vargas celebration, points to the desecration of conquistador statutes in the past few decades as evidence of a simmering resentment. That includes the 1998 guerilla removal of a foot belonging to a bronze statue of Juan de Oñate near Española as well as damage inflicted on the statue of de Vargas in Santa Fe's Cathedral Park in 2014.

Another statue in Native organizers' sights, Ortiz says, is the bronze statue of Colonial Governor Pedro de Peralta on horseback in Santa Fe. Located at 323 Grant Avenue behind the downtown post office, the late artist Dave McGary was commissioned by the city in 1992 to create the sculpture of the man who formally founded the town for Spain.

Jordan West, the associate director at the Meyer Gallery, which represented McGrary for over 20 years, believes removing the statue of Peralta would disgrace the artist's memory. He describes himself as a close, personal friend of McGary's.

"I know there's a lot of sad history that's out there, but if they're going to try removing history, I don't understand why they don't try tearing down the Governor's Mansion," he says. "Where do you stop? At what point are you finished?"

President Donald Trump made the comparison of Robert E Lee to other figures celebrated in American history. "I wonder: Is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?" the president said at a rambling, disjointed news conference at which he sparred with journalists on Tuesday. "You know, you really do have to ask yourself—where does it stop?"

Ana Pacheco, the city historian of Santa Fe and a descendant of a man who resettled Santa Fe with de Vargas, offered a similar assessment.

"In my opinion, it's impossible to leave out history. But if they're going to knock down statutes, they should rename city of Santa Fe, because it's the Spanish name," she tells SFR, her voice tinged with sarcasm. "Wipe the slate clean, I guess? No more USA, we'll pretend history never happened, and we'll live happily ever after."

For Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, a historian and author of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, such suggestions are "absurd" and meant to undermine movements like the one happening across the country against symbols of the Confederacy.

"My answer to these people is we should look into [more extensive removal and renaming], but in the meantime, here's an immediate thing we can do," she says.

To her, memorials to Spanish conquest and Confederate hubris are all memorials to white European supremacy.

“The United States uprooted Africans and brought them here. The Spanish brought uprooted [Natives from Mexico and colonized the Indigenous people] to be their slaves in New Mexico, ” Dunbar-Ortiz says. “I think it’s really important and it's absolutely analogous.

Edit: This story was updated to include a statement from Lt. Gov. Matthew Martinez.

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