Obelisk Redux

City councilors unveil proposal for the future of the old “Soldiers’ Monument” on the Plaza

City councilors on Friday unveiled a proposal to bring down the box surrounding the obelisk on Santa Fe Plaza and begin reimagining the monument that was partly toppled on Indigenous Peoples Day in 2020.

The resolution to be introduced at Wednesday’s council meeting does not call for getting rid of the monument.

Instead, the city would “hire conservators, designers, and/or historians to determine specific proposals to mend, redesign, and/or reframe” the obelisk.

“We want to see the original pieces of the obelisk bonded together with some sort of modern material that shows in an artistic way, I think, the fractures,” District 2 Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, one of the resolution’s sponsors, told reporters at a news conference Friday on the Plaza.

The resolution comes after a lengthy public engagement process known as CHART—Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth. The final report from CHART, released in August, was inconclusive about the monument’s future, however.

Built in the 19th century, the obelisk honors soldiers who fought in the Civil War as well as soldiers who fought against Indigenous people, who were described in racist terms on the monument.

Nearly 32% of Santa Feans surveyed as part of the report wanted the monument restored with its original signage and additional language that “encourages it to be fully understood and assessed.” About 12% simply wanted the monument restored with its original signage, another 11% wanted the monument restored with different signage, and 33% called for replacing what’s left of the monument with something else.

The report recommended the city begin the process of reaching a resolution between those who supported the two most favored options—getting rid of the monument and restoring it with original as well as supplemental signage.

While no consensus may have been reached, councilors contend the resolution starts a new process for Santa Feans to weigh in on the future of the site.

“With this work that we’ve done collaboratively, it’s an attempt or goal to really balance the various community interests and perspectives pertaining to the Soldiers’ Monument,” said District 1 Councilor Renee Villarreal, who is cosponsoring the resolution with Romero-Wirth, District 3 Councilor Chris Rivera and District 4 Councilor Amanda Chavez.

The resolution calls for installing four new plaques. One would include an Indigenous land acknowledgement and another would describe the circumstances that led to the monument’s toppling in 2020.

A third plaque would restate the Entrada Proclamation from September 7, 2018, written after a lengthy dialogue between the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, the Caballeros De Vargas, the Santa Fe Fiesta Council and the city government.

And a fourth plaque would “describe a complete history of the obelisk as the soldiers’ monument.”

Asked whether the fourth marker would include wording from the original monument—some of which was chipped away years ago because it used derogatory language in reference to Indigenous people—Romero-Wirth said the wording is “probably still to be determined.”

“But I think we want to be more sensitive and more inclusive and capture broader perspectives,” she added.

The resolution calls for current plaques at the site to be moved and placed “in a location accessible to the public,” suggesting a future museum display or exhibit on the city’s history.

While the city considers proposals for the obelisk, the box and fence surrounding the monument would be removed if the resolution passes. A light would be installed temporarily to shine into the sky, “to the extent permitted under the city’s code,” the resolution says.

The measure has early support from four councilors. And Mayor Alan Webber—who previously called for removing the monument—tells SFR he is seeking to be added as a sponsor of the resolution, too.

“I think the monument as it stood would have been best safely put in a museum or a public space where it could be studied and regarded in its historic context. The suggestion in this resolution is to do just that but not move it–to reframe the historical context,” he says.

The resolution also calls for creating an Office of Equity and Inclusion in city government, following on another recommendation from the CHART report. The office would work in part on helping craft language for the new plaques and undertake a host of initiatives inside and outside city government, such as coordinating bias training for city staff and working with community groups.

The resolution is slated for introduction at the council’s regular meeting on Wednesday and faces committee hearings in the weeks ahead at City Hall. It also enters potentially tricky legal territory, as the city is facing a lawsuit from the Union Protectiva de Santa Fe that seeks to force the local government to restore the monument.

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