SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Statues of Spanish conqueror Juan de Oñate are confronting a new wave of criticism in New Mexico as an affront to indigenous people and an obstacle to greater racial harmony.
The Red Nation advocacy group for Native American rights was planning a protest Monday evening to urge authorities to remove a statue on Oñate on horseback outside a cultural center at the norther New Mexico community of Alcalde.
A separate demonstration in Albuquerque was aimed at the removal of another Oñate likeness that is part of a caravan of Spanish colonists set in bronze outside a city museum.
Monuments to European conquerors and colonists around the world are being pulled down amid an intense re-examination of racial injustices in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.
Oñate, who arrived in present-day New Mexico in 1598, is both reviled for his brutality and revered as a cultural father figure in communities along the Upper Rio Grande Valley that trace their ancestry to Spanish settlers.
To Native Americans, Oñate is known for having ordered the right feet cut off of two dozen captive tribal warriors after his soldiers stormed Acoma Pueblo’s mesa-top “sky city.” Oñate’s order was precipitated by the killing of his nephew.
Elena Ortiz, a Red Nation organizer in Santa Fe with family ties to indigenous Ohkey Owingeh Pueblo, said conquistadors including Oñate are symbols of violence and detract from efforts toward mutual aid and support in the age of the coronavirus.
“This is an issue of colonization and the elevation of these individuals — conquerors and conquistadors — into heroes when they were murderers,” Ortiz said. “This is a universal issue.”
Albuquerque city officials announced Saturday they will convene a council of community leaders and artists to consider the concerns about the public art piece as they look for “creative solutions.”
Titled “La Jornada,” the sculpture depicts Oñate leading a group of Spanish settlers to what was then the northern most province of New Spain in 1598. The collection of statues includes an indigenous guide, a priest, women settlers and soldiers. The names of the families who accompanied Onate are listed on plaques below as part of the “Wall of Spanish Ancestral Heritage.”
“Recent calls for altering ‘La Jornada’ remind us that works of art often challenge communities to debate ideas, pursue empathy, grapple with multiple perspectives, reconcile conflict and interrogate history,” said Shelle Sanchez, head of the city’s Cultural Services Department.
“La Jornada” is one of two pieces on museum property that were installed to reflect part of New Mexico’s history, city officials said. The other by New Mexico artist Nora Naranjo Morse of Santa Clara Pueblo is meant to be a place of solace and reflection that was commissioned as a response to the caravan.
In northern New Mexico, annual costumed tributes to Spanish conquistadors including Oñate have been scaled back or canceled in recent years in deference to local indigenous communities and new revelations about the subjugation and enslavement of Native American servants and people of mixed ancestry.
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