The mayor and City Council postponed voting Wednesday on a proposal to rebuild the Soldier’s Monument on Santa Fe Plaza after a marathon hearing of impassioned public testimony made clear local residents share plenty of pain but not the council’s vision for how to proceed with the site.
Several councilors have argued that a new design and new plaques would give additional context to the 19th century obelisk that was built to honor soldiers who fought in the Civil War as well as soldiers who fought against Indigenous people.
But in more than two hours of testimony, local residents said the plan didn’t include the perspectives of Indigenous people or follow through on the goals of the community engagement process the city launched after the monument was partly toppled by protesters on Indigenous Peoples Day in 2020.
Instead of engaging in further dialogue to reach a resolution on the site’s future, as the leaders of that process urged, city leaders were plowing ahead with a plan of their own, critics argued.
“I don’t know what else we have to do to be seen and heard,” Carrie Wood (Diné), a member of the board of the Santa Fe Indigenous Center, told councilors.
Some speakers reminded Mayor Alan Webber, who has supported the plan, that he had supported removing the monument altogether in 2020. Several pledged to tear down the obelisk if city officials erect it again. Meanwhile, others who supported rebuilding the monument as it was argued the city’s plan fell short. And one speaker after another argued the council was poised to leave the city as divided as ever on the issue.
After more than two hours of testimony, councilors voted around 11:30 pm to adjourn without voting on the fate of the monument. Councilors are not scheduled to meet again until March 29 but may hold a special meeting on the issue in the meantime.
“I found tonight really heartbreaking,” said District 4 Councilor Jamie Cassutt, who co-sponsored the proposal but said she was uncertain how to move forward.
Meanwhile, District 2 Councilor Michael Garcia proposed an amendment that would have scrapped the monument plan. But councilors adjourned before voting on it.
The four councilors who initially backed the proposal argued a vote Wednesday would still have provided opportunities for the public to provide input.
“Public involvement is not going to stop tonight,” District 4 Councilor Amanda Chavez told the hearing.
The resolution, if amended as its backers proposed, called for the city to “hire conservators, designers and/or historians” to redesign the obelisk. Under the resolution, the council would not vote on a design until next year.
The resolution would have also created an Office of Equity and Inclusion, which would have worked on the wording of four new plaques for the monument.
One would include an Indigenous land acknowledgement and another would describe the circumstances that led to the monument’s toppling. A third plaque would restate the Entrada Proclamation from September 7, 2018, written after lengthy discussions among 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.
Webber also drafted an amendment to include a water feature.
Backers argued that the plan drew from the community engagement process known as CHART. But the leaders of the CHART process made clear in a statement last month they do not support the resolution.
Valerie Martínez and Jenice Gharib, co-directors of CHART, wrote that because CHART participants were almost evenly split on a couple different options, the mayor and City Council should not simply pick which option they like best but ensure that there’s an ongoing process of community engagement to reach a resolution.
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.” But 33% called for replacing what’s left of the monument with something else. About 12% simply wanted the monument restored with its original signage, another 11% wanted the monument restored with different signage.
“Choosing one of the options over the other, at this time, does not promote reconciliation as part of the decision-making process,” Martínez and Gherib wrote.
Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission voted unanimously last week to oppose the city’s plan.
“Diné/Navajo people are community members of Santa Fe and our Diné leaders are present in the city. It is an affront to who we are as Diné and to our ancestors to be referred to as ‘savages,’” the commission said in a resolution sent to city officials.
The Santa Fe Indigenous Center’s board formally opposed the move, too.
In a letter to councilors on Wednesday, the center’s board said it was “concerned that a lack of respect for our community has prevented our voices from being heard in the past.”
The center’s board also signed on to a petition that called on city officials to engage in a process for new legislation that includes input from Indigenous people.
Asked at the end of Wednesday’s meeting if he thought the proposal had enough support to pass, Webber seemed unsure.
“The divisions we heard tonight are reflected on the council,” he told SFR.