As local collaborative arts company Artful Life enters the final two rounds of the city approval process for taking over the Culture, History Art, Reconciliation and Truth (or CHART) process that kicked off late last year, Indigenous Santa Feans tell SFR they’re concerned over an item from the bio of the company’s co-founder, Valerie Martinez.
“Someone who runs CHART needs to understand what it is to be a Native person, and she is not,” Wood says, adding that she spoke with Martinez last week to clarify the situation and came away unsatisfied. “The fact I tried to reach out to [Martinez] and tried to explain, and she’s not interested in discussing this with us—she has a lot of learning to do on her own about what it means to be a Native person. She’s an intelligent woman; to put Diné and Pueblo in her bio...she knows exactly what she’s doing. People think they’re hiring an Indigenous person, and they’re not.”
Mayor Alan Webber initiated the CHART process following the toppling of the Plaza obelisk last October. It is meant to address concerns over monuments and public spaces through fact-finding and peer-to-peer discussion. If approved, which seems all but assured at this point, Artful Life would collect a healthy fee to facilitate the process.
Wood says her concerns have less to do with semantic ancestry and old bloodlines and more to do with a way of life and life experience, as well as lack of Native voices in city leadership roles. Further, she says, given Martinez’s bio—one that has now been broadcast by Mayor Alan Webber’s administration—it would be understandable for Santa Feans to believe Martinez would operate the CHART process from both Indigenous and Hispanic points of view.
Without the same upbringing or facing the same challenges as Native Americans, Wood says, that’s a misstatement of the reality.
Martinez tells SFR she is not enrolled with the Navajo Nation or with any pueblo, nor did she grow up in those environments.
“What I’ve said to people is it’s very complicated,” Martinez tells SFR. “I don’t have the same experiences [Indigenous people] have; I have my own experiences. I can only be honest about who I am. That’s all I can do. That’s who I am.”
Martinez says a DNA test administered through California-based biotech company 23andMe found some Diné and San Ildefonso lineage on her mother’s side dating back to the mid-to-late-1800s.
Three Sisters Collective co-founder Christina M. Castro (Jemez/Taos Pueblo/Chicana) says that’s not enough to make a claim of affiliation.
“So many people in Northern New Mexico have those similar DNA results,” she says. “It’s interesting [Martinez] is embracing them. To introduce herself as such, as representing mine and Carrie’s communities...Pueblos are very close-knit, we know who people are. Putting that as her primary identity—and Hispanic—that’s a big deal, especially in this time.”
SFR asked city spokesman David Herndon if the city took the implications of a misleading Native ancestry into account when choosing Martinez—and whether her ancestry claims were vetted.
Herndon did not address those questions, instead offering SFR an email with a paragraph of unresponsive talking points and a terse: “Ms. Martinez speaks for herself.”
Martinez’s actions speak to an antiquated understanding of what it means to be Native, Wood says, and should not be part of the equation.
“We are not a long time ago, we are current, we are thriving,” Wood notes of the local Indigenous populace. “The truth that needs to be reconciled is that people have a stereotypical view of us that is all historical. They’re commodifying and co-opting who we are, and if we don’t fall into these stereotypes, they talk over us, they won’t let us speak. When they say ‘My great grandma was this or that tribe,’ it’s like, ‘OK, who are you, though? Because I am Diné. I’m a member of the Navajo Nation. I have clans.’ She doesn’t understand the difference between having some distant maternal ancestor and actually being Diné or Pueblo. That she’s touting that means she should not be anywhere near CHART.”
Artful Life was recommended by a special city selection committee and passed votes with the City Council’s Finance and Quality of Life committees this week.
Notably, Councilor Michael Garcia of District 2 abstained from the vote during the Quality of Life meeting. Garcia did not respond to questions from SFR.
Meanwhile, Artful Life is scheduled for another hearing before the Public Works and Utilities Committee on July 12, followed by the definitive City Council vote, which is on the agenda for July 14. If approved, the proposed budget for the process would clock in at $254,000.
Martinez says the bulk of the money would go toward paying a team formed by open call.
“That team would be making the decisions together,” Martinez explains. “Every part of our approach to this is based in community and putting money into community. With work like this, there are hundreds of perspectives, and part of our responsibility is to make sure we provide opportunities to the widest number of people possible.”
Wood remains unconvinced.
“It’s not about some DNA test or online genealogical research,” she says. “It’s actually being a part of a community.”