The Obelisk Comes Down

Updated: Months after failed promises from the city to remove it, activists pull down racist Plaza monument

(Katherine Lewin)

“We are not your Halloween costumes! We are not your dime store Indians!” a speaker shouted from the bandstand on the Santa Fe Plaza today—Monday, Oct. 12, Indigenous Peoples Day in Santa Fe, the day the obelisk came down.

Oct. 12, 2020. Indigenous People’s Day in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The obelisk has come down.

Posted by Santa Fe Reporter on Monday, October 12, 2020

By 1 pm, following a small number of reported arrests earlier in the day, a notably police-free Plaza was packed with people, from Native activists and their non-Native allies who'd spent the weekend protesting together, to media, onlookers and passersby. Within the hour, the first massive section of the controversial Plaza obelisk came down, pulled by an army of protesters using tow rope and chains.

(Katherine Lewin)

The thud of the heavy block hitting the ground reverberated through their bodies as the crowd cheered and chanted. One activist climbed the toppled monument to spray paint the words "LAND BACK" around its broken circumference, others slapped red handprints across the base and what was left of the spire, and two people began re-affixing the tow rope and chains to the next section.

(Katherine Lewin)

The obelisk has been in the news repeatedly of late, originally stemming from promises Mayor Alan Webber made to local activist group Three Sisters Collective in June that he would call for removal of the monument. More than 150 days later, it still stood, but a coalition of activist groups took over the Plaza through the weekend demanding it come down. On Sunday night, protesters tell SFR, police and fire department personnel flooded the Plaza, dragging some activists out. Today, however, the crowd faced no immediate opposition.

Shortly before 2 pm, a second section of the monument was torn down to further cheers and a number of Native activists climbed the base to symbolically reclaim the Plaza. Afterward, one participant who did not wish to be identified breathlessly told SFR they feel vindicated, but that organizers didn't want to make a comment today.

(Katherine Lewin)

SFR captured live video of the action (see above) to which online reactions were mixed with some commenters excited for the obelisk’s removal.Screen Shot 2020-10-12 at 2.59.34 PM

Others, however, were less inclined to support the monument coming down.

The monument was completed in 1868, according to research published by historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez.

"The Soldier's Monument or Obelisk honors the lives of men who died in two intersecting conflicts — the Civil War and the Indian Wars….This memorial is among the oldest placed in this landscape and is built in the shape of an Egyptian obelisk, an ancient symbol representing creation and renewal, particularly in its association with the light of the sun. It was identified with the benu bird, a precursor to the Greek phoenix, but tied to two gods, Thoth, keeper of the records and Ra, the sun god. It is seated upon a raised base, decorated with laurel wreaths symbolizing triumph, held up by four pillars framing inscriptions on marble, one of which has been the subject of contentious civic debate and community activism for decades."

An inscription on the obelisk formerly used the word “savages,” chiseled out some years later and in this photo replaced with the word “resilient” in marker. | SFR File Photo

SFR reached out to the mayor's office, but did not receive a comment. Shortly before 5 pm, however, Webber broadcasted a statement live on his Facebook page.

"We need to address the past. We don't need to tear down the past," he said. "We need to work together. We don't need to fight against each other. We need a time of peace and reconciliation, not violence and lawlessness."

The full video statement appears below.

Posted by Mayor Alan Webber on Monday, October 12, 2020

The city also held an emergency City Council meeting and issued more information late Tuesday. Read an update here.

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