onate statue taken down 6-15-2020

Rio Arriba County staff are taking down the statue of Spanish colonizer Don Juan de Oñate.

On Monday afternoon in Alcalde, atop the pedestal where hours before a monument to the Spanish colonizer Don Juan de Oñate had stood, Than Tsídéh, a man from Dixon and Ohkay Owingeh, danced.

“My ancestors are proud to not have this man glorified no longer,” Than Tsídéh said about the conquistador. “He raped, murdered and pillaged our people. May we all respect one another.”

County road and building maintenance staff around midday had taken a torch to the bronze hooves of the horse Oñate rode, loosened the metal from the concrete base, and lifted the statue into the air with a bulldozer.

Then they drove off with it down the highway, preparing to store it in what County Manager Tomas Campos described as a “top-secret” location.

Campos ordered the removal of the statue that morning, after learning that high numbers of protesters were planning to show up Monday afternoon to demand the removal of the statue and that members of a right-wing militia were threatening to counter the demonstration.

To prevent confrontation and to “protect” the statue from vandalism and destruction, Campos decided to remove it temporarily, he said.

“That statue is the property of the citizens of Rio Arriba,” he wrote in a Monday text message. “I will not sit and watch outside forces destroy it.”

He said that it will be up to Rio Arriba residents and the County Commission to decide whether to erect the statue again.

Led by Pueblo women, indigenous activists stamped red handprints all over the empty concrete base and painted “MMIW”–which stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women–on the back.

In the evening over 100 people gathered to celebrate the removal of the statue and to demand an end to the institutional racism and violence continuously perpetrated against Native people.

Tewa Women United Environmental Justice Coordinator Beata Tsosie-Peña, who is from Santa Clara Pueblo and El Rito, said she hopes the County issues a statement of solidarity with Native communities and that officials lay the statue to rest for good.

“This is a very solemn day, because we’re also remembering missing and murdered indigenous relatives, at the hands of this legacy, we’re also remembering a lot of lives lost and that continue to be lost,” she said. “I’m really solemn today and thinking about the ancestral energy that we want to continue to feed moving forward, and those values of love and respect and care that they dreamt for all of their children of this place.”


Many are members of The Red Nation, an organization that, its website states, is dedicated to the liberation of Native peoples from capitalism and colonialism.

Several of the demonstrators are from local Pueblos, but there were also people of other nations present, from Laguna to Pine Ridge.

Elena Ortiz, who is from Ohkay Owingeh and the chair of the Santa Fe chapter of The Red Nation, asked everyone to recall the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, in which Pueblo people overthrew Spanish reign and drove settlers from the region.

The Revolt restored to the Pueblo people what they had lost under colonization, their right to practice their ceremonial ways of life and their spiritual beliefs, she said.

“That is what is happening now,” she said. “We are the new ancestors, and this is the new revolt. This is sweeping the nation, and we want to be a part of it. It’s time to reclaim Turtle Island from the colonizers. We stand with all people of color, our black relatives, and our trans relatives, and our LGBTQ relatives from the Global South all the way to Palestine. Revolution is here. Revolution is necessary. And if you’re not part of it, you’re gonna get swept aside.”

Justine Teba, an activist from Santa Clara and Tesuque Pueblo, urged listeners to organize for indigenous liberation and for the abolishment of capitalism and colonialism.

“History is made today,” she said. “History is not something in the past. History is something that we make right here right now. And it’s always a question of what side of history will you be on?”

Some who opposed the removal of the statue offered an opposite vision of history.

Gov. Ron Lovato of Ohkay Owingeh and Rep. Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, wrote in a joint statement that “history is by its definition the past.”

They described the removal as erasure of history and wrote that it occurred without consulting members of Ohkay Owingeh or surrounding Hispano communities and that in the decision the County ignored the people of the region, whom they described as the stakeholders in the matter.

“For hundreds of years, our communities have lived in harmony and continue to look ahead and plan to the benefit of the generations to come,” they wrote.

As County staff worked to take the statue down Monday morning, about a dozen County residents gathered, some crying out in victory, others yelling in dismay.

Alcalde resident Robert Herrera stood in the back of a black pickup truck with a wooden panel reading “All life matters” and bellowed to the County workers, “Put your hardhats on, pendejos!”

He said the removal was “unfair” and called it an “injustice.”

“This isn’t right,” he said. “We’ve been in it together for already hundreds of years, living amongst each other. There’s a division going on right now that needs to stop, amongst all races.”

Alcalde resident Johnny Villareal got into a shouting match with Campos over his decision to take down the statue, accusing him of not making sense.

“It’s a bunch of b*******,” Villareal said.

More than once people said they would not be here were it not for Oñate.

“I’m a Spaniard,” said a man who refused to identify himself beyond that.

Lorynn Naranjo, granddaughter of Emilio Naranjo, the man who in 1992 was behind the construction and placement of the monument, arrived in tears and said she did not want to see the statue destroyed.

But she said she “totally understands” the need for it to be taken down and would be open to it ending up in a museum, with information about the monument and the conquistador.

Leading a Spanish expedition to colonize the region, Oñate arrived in what is now called New Mexico in 1598 and established a colonial government on Ohkay Owingeh land.

He oversaw the killing of hundreds of indigenous people and sentenced numerous others to slavery. He also ordered the amputation of the right feet of at least 24 men from Acoma Pueblo.

The movement to bring down his monument in Alcalde is part of a much longer struggle to end the celebration of the Spanish conquest in Northern New Mexico.

At the demonstration Monday evening, a faint cry of “Que viva Oñate!” was heard as Native activists declared that they and the Pueblo land are free.

“This right here this is liberated territory, right now, and we did this today,” UNM Professor and The Red Nation co-founder Melanie Yazzie said where the statue once stood. “This will go down in history. Our people in the future will talk about this day in history. It’s a beautiful moment for all of us.”

(14) comments


Does the removal of the statue change anything. I believe that it is just a political stunt to appease the left. Without the past we have no future.


The commission did not pull down Juan de Oñate. It came down at the direction of that cheerleader Leo Jaramillo. The same Jaramillo who was essentially voted to the senate as your district 5 senator by Los Alamos county. To quote the Sun: “District 2 County Commissioner Leo Jaramillo said in a Tuesday phone call that he is meeting with Campos on Friday to talk about how the County could remove the statue.” From Friday the 12th to today is typically about the right amount of time and deliberation for a movida cobarde like this. They (Jaramillo and Campos) make up this fake story of potential vandalism to cover up for their political movidas that are more than documented. Campos needs access to the senate chambers in 2021; an administrator capitulating to, and taking the heat for, a “politico” is nothing new. How far northern New Mexico leaders have fallen since 1598! From “adelantados”-to-“levantando cheerleaders.”

On another note, Elena Ortiz states the following: “why do people in Northern New Mexico want to define themselves as Spanish and elevate this Eurocentric ideal of Spanishness, of whiteness?” Why are you elevating your Nativeness to such a comical height and ideal when everyone knows your father was Professor Alonso Ortiz, the famous outer of Tewa secrets from within his book “The Tewa World: Space, Being and Becoming on a Pueblo Society”. Ortiz was using “ideal,” “Eurocentric” theoretic paradigms of Claude Levi Strauss to elevate and give shape to “Nativeness”, to “non-whiteness”. The irony of it all was that, not only was he using this Eurocentric paradigm, but he was using this paradigm knowing full well that he himself was half “Spanish”; his mother being, in further ironic fashion, the sister of Emilio Naranjo, that purest of leaders who had the guts and guile to remind Hispanic people of their link to this “Eurocentric ideal of Spanishness, of whiteness”. To THIER objective, tangible past. Based on these facts, I wonder if you’re not ‘elevating’ your Nativeness to an “ideal” and yet spouting nonsense out of your own clouded, conflicted and biased mouth. After all, a person who spouts postmodern drivel like “whiteness” and “patriarchy” out of ones mouth is not the epitome of being objective. I hope you would concede broadly that the “issue is so complex”, looking not only in the continually whipped Spanish direction, but also in your idealized, native direction.

!Que viva Oñate, que viva Emilio! Que retumben los gritos de los Norteños de que hasta ahora estaban dormidos...


Great words malcreado...ja ja ja ja

Evil gringo

Put it in a museum...off the road from across from this butcher's victim's. Time to look at these figures honestly and critically.


Great job county commission, we know where to find your spines. Don’t confuse righteousness with weakness, ehh? Now advocate for the removal the mass murderer Popay from the halls of Congress, in the spirit of removing one narcissistic despot for another. It’s only fair, community healing after all. That won’t happen, we know...no spine. You can bring Onate to my house, he’ll get a good home here.


Po'Pay was a defender of his people from oppression and violence, Onate was a criminal and brutal dictator. When King Phillip of Spain heard the news of the massacre and punishments, Oñate was brought on 30 charges of mismanagement and excessive cruelty in suppressing Indian uprisings. He was found guilty of cruelty, immorality, and false reporting and returned to Spain to live out the remainder of his life a criminal and in disgrace.

Its obvious your remarks are from a point of racism and not from facts. History is often distorted and twisted by the loudest idiots. Good example is the south with its glorification of the confederate flag and its traitors to the Republic, or a better example closer to home is, you.


little spain has lost their minds.


little spain has lost their minds

I guess there will be no more fiesta de oñate

celebrate being a liberal and wearing a mask....abnormal seriously abnormal

Big Cheese

Little spain is woke fool


yup wearing masks is real woke fool

Stephanie Montoya

This is the right move. Thank you, Rio Arriba county, for doing the right thing. I hope that our community can move further toward healing as a result of this. Perhaps the statue can be moved to the NM history museum in Santa Fe to help educate people and contextualize the history of Onate. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard over the years to bring this long overdue change!


Better yet melt it down and use for something else.


Bravo to the Rio Arriba County Commission! I’m certain taking down the Oñate statue will undoubtedly lead to the elimination of the drug addiction, the deeply ingrained political corruption, and extreme poverty that plague the area. Who knows, it may also improve the area’s dismal high school graduation rate. Kudos a la Comisión.


grammarguy - Awesome!!!

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