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.”
The activists carried signs that read “THIS IS PUEBLO LAND” and “PUBLIC LAND = STOLEN LAND” and “CELEBRATE RESISTANCE, NOT CONQUEST.”
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.”