fight to honor Pueblo Nations history is spurring an arts movement
and a return to ancestral knowledge.
the toppling of the Soldier's Monument obelisk on Oct. 12,
2020, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Indigenous communities in the
state have long considered the tribute offensive because it
commemorates federal soldiers who fought Pueblo Nations people
in the 19th century. (photograph by CEDAR ATTANASIO, AP Photo)
SINCE 1868, A 20-foot-tall obelisk commemorating Civil War Union
soldiers has stood at the center of Santa Fe Plaza. The words etched
in marble at the memorial's base originally read: "To the heroes
who have fallen in various battles with savage Indians in the Territory
of New Mexico"but the word "savage" had been scratched off
in years past. Now, the monument itself no longer stands.
Memorials and monuments to New Mexico's Spanish and American colonial
pastdepicting conquerors and missionaries cast in bronze or
carved in stonecan be found throughout the state. But, just
as Confederate monuments were felled last summer by Black
Lives Matter activists, dozens
of statues memorializing anti-Indigenous genocidal conquest
have also been toppledfrom Portland to Chicago to Richmond.
monuments fall, how does the world reckon with a racist past?)
Dusk casts a rosy hue
across Santa Fe, New Mexico. The state is home to 19 self-governing
Pueblo Nations communities. (photograph by SEAN PAVONE, ALAMY
Fe, in particular, has been reckoning with its colonial past
and current real-life violence against Indigenous peoples. An ongoing
conflict over monuments is among the more visible actions playing
out, but it is not the only one. Amid a struggle for racial justice,
a number of organizations have pushed for change on issues such
as water and land rights, police brutality, inequities in healthcare
and community investment, and systemic racism.
These organizations are making urgent progress at a critical time,
when the ongoing coronavirus
pandemic has closed most, if not all, Native American tribal
lands to non-residents.
Nineteen Pueblo Nations are scattered in central and northern New
Mexico, each a sovereign
nation. Their current lands were granted
during Spanish colonial rule and then recognized under the 1848
Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo when the United States seized the Southwest
from Mexico. Here, resistance to Spanish and American colonialism
runs centuries deep.
why Pueblo Nations are among Nat Geo Travel's 25 destinations on
The toppling of the Soldiers' Monument in Santa Fe Plaza is just
the latest flashpoint in a long struggle. In a promising sign, President-elect
Joe Biden's nomination of Representative Deb
Haaland (D-NM)a member of Laguna
Puebloas Secretary of the Interior points to the success
of tribal action in boosting political leadership.
"Take it down"
On October 12, 2020, hundreds gathered around the obelisk in historic
Santa Fe Plaza to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day. Chants of "take
it down!" came from the crowd.
The Soldiers' Monument,
also known as the American Indian War Memorial, commemorates
Civil War Union troops and was erected in 1868 in Santa Fe
Plaza, now the heart of New Mexico's capital city. (photograph
by ROBERT ALEXANDER, Getty Images)
By day's end, chains had fractured the structure in two, and police
six people with "unlawful assembly" and crimes related to pulling
down the memorial.
role do tourists play in the future of Confederate monuments?)
Earlier, in June, under pressure from Indigenous activists, Santa
Fe Mayor Alan Webber had pledged
to take down colonial monuments such as the obelisk. Yet, by Indigenous
Peoples' Day, the obeliskas well as another in front of the
federal courthouse in honor of frontiersman Kit Carson, who led
military campaigns against Nativesstill stood. (A statue of
Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas, in Cathedral Park, had
been removed by the city on June 18 for "safekeeping.")
"They care more about monuments, colonial monuments of conquest,
than they do about the people of Santa Fewell, at least the
Indigenous people," said Christina Castro, who is Jemez Pueblo and
Pueblo. She is co-founder of Three
Sisters Collective, an Indigenous arts and activism-focused
"People are tired of these broken promises and broken treaties
and telling us one thing and doing the complete opposite," said
Melissa Rose, a Three Sisters Collective member and a midwife who
is St. Regis Mohawk Nation from upstate New York.
The Pueblo Revolt
In 1540, Spanish conquistadors and enslaved Native people traveled
north, arriving in what is now the Southwest region to claim Indigenous
and Pueblo lands for the Spanish crown.
Throughout this period, the Pueblo villages defied forced religious
conversion as their holy medicine men and leaders were targeted
for arrest, imprisonment, and even execution by order of the colonial
governor in Santa Fe. Catholic churches were built atop sacred or
A smiling Pueblo mother carries a child
wrapped in a woven blanket papoose on her back, sometime in
the 1930s. (photograph by H. ARMSTRONG ROBERTS, Classic Stock/Getty
A Zuni Pueblo village in New Mexico, circa
1948. Pueblo Nations communities have fought for centuries
to preserve their cultural traditions and maintain sovereignty.
(photograph by W. EUGENE SMITH, The Life Picture Collection/Getty
For years, the Spanish fought against Acoma Pueblo, which was a
stronghold, until Don Juan de Oñate laid siege in 1599, killing
as many as a thousand Acoma people. In 1668, a holy man from Ohkay
Owingeh Pueblo named Po'pay
began to form alliances with the other villages to rise against
Finally, in 1680, the Pueblos overthrew the Spanish in New Mexico
in what is known as the Pueblo Revolt, led by Po'pay. The Pueblos
lived free from Spanish rule for 12 years.
about the Red Power movement's fight for Native American sovereignty.)
In the footsteps of Po'pay
After the Spanish retook the city, the Spanish Governor Don
Diego De Vargas captured and executed 70 Pueblo warriors in
Santa Fe Plaza. "A lot of blood was spilled on that plaza, but you
have to go to a university history class to learn about it, because
they won't teach that in high school," said Enrique Lamadrid, professor
emeritus of Spanish at the University of New Mexico. "Real history
is too terrifying."
But that's not the only legacy. Once the Spanish were defeated
in the revolt, the Pueblos set in motion a revival of traditions
and languages, which they continue to guard to this day. In 1980,
the Pueblos celebrated the tricentennial anniversary of the Pueblo
Revolt, culminating in a reenactment of Pueblo messengers who ran
from village to village, informing each to initiate their uprising.
Today, numerous Indigenous organizations like Pueblo
Action Alliance and Red Nation
fight for water and land rights, and against police brutality.
Amid this struggle for racial justice in New Mexico, the Santa
Fe-based Three Sisters Collective formed in 2017 to support Pueblo
artists, create space for Indigenous peoples in Santa Fe, and reclaim
Stephanie Owens and her
daughter attend a candlelight vigil in Tiguex Park for Scott
Williams. Williams was protesting a statue of conquistador
Juan de Oñate on June 16, 2020, at the Albuquerque
Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when he was shot and seriously
injured by a counter protestor. (photograph by PAUL RATJE,
During the coronavirus pandemic, the collective has been organizing
webinars on controversial neighborhood developments, art projects,
even discussions on relationship boundaries.
In July, Three Sisters Collective hosted a webinar for Santa
Fe Arts Institute fellow and multidisciplinary artist Heidi
K. Brandow to present "The
Memory Project." Brandow, who is Native Hawaiian and Diné,
mapped public art and memorials in Santa Fe and the city's demographic
data. She found that over 80 percent of memorials are dedicated
to "colonizers," meaning 4 out of 65 memorials in Santa Fe are dedicated
to Native American people and cultureand most were men.
how Indigenous women are reshaping Canada's tourism industry.)
The collective was recently awarded a grant of nearly $100,000
to split with Alas de Agua Art
Collective to create 12
murals around downtown Santa Fe to depict environmental issues
and Indigenous culture. The murals are in the early planning stages,
but education would likely be a key component, possibly even as
part of local school curriculum.
For the collective, the nomination of Haalandwho will be
the first Indigenous person to hold any cabinet secretary positionsignals
a clear departure from the Trump administration's record of defying
treaty rights, such as shrinking
Ears National Monument or revoking tribal status from the Mashpee
Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts. "For so long, Indigenous women
have been 'invisibilized,'" said Castro, "and now we can no longer
The inaccurate and unfair representation of Indigenous peoples
is crumbling in Santa Fe, if slowly. Today, the city still guards
the remaining base of the plaza's obelisk.
"It's been quite frightening that there's been a more concerted
effort on behalf of the democratic city government to crack down
on protesters than to actually make good on promises that they made
to remove these things in the first place," said Nick Estes, assistant
professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, and
a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.
Just two blocks north of the Santa Fe Plaza stands the obelisk
honoring Kit Carson, who is infamous for leading thousands of Diné
and Mescalero Apaches on death marches known as the "Long Walk"
in 1863, which killed some 2,000 people.
"This isn't just something we incited or [that arose] through the
community," said Autumn Rose Billie, co-founder of Three Sisters
Collective, who is Taos Pueblo, Acoma Pueblo, and Diné. "These
have been issues and conversations that have been talked about at
our grandmothers' tables."
Kalen Goodluck is a journalist and photographer based in Albuquerque,
New Mexico. He comes from the Diné, Mandan, Hidatsa, and
Tsimshian tribes. Find him on Twitter
to the Pueblo of Laguna
Laguna is surrounded by enchanting mesas and is situated at the
foothills of the beautiful mountains of Mount Taylor. Laguna is
located 45 miles west of Albuquerque on Interstate 40. The reservation
consists of approximately 500,000 acres of land situated in Cibola,
Valencia, Bernalillo and Sandoval counties. The residents of Laguna
Pueblo live in six villages which are Laguna, Mesita, Paguate, Seama,
Paraje, and Encinal. The Tribal administration building is located
in the village of Laguna. You can experience the uniqueness of our
Pueblo by visiting in person.
Santa Fe Art
SFAI is an independent arts organization forging critical inquiry
and cultural exchange among artists, creative practitioners, and
the broader community. We support and amplify dynamic artistic practices
that engage complex social issues, inspire individual transformation,
and inform collective action. SFAI supports over 70 artists, activists,
and creative practitioners annually through residencies, workshops,
civic engagement, and innovative public events.
3SC began in the Spring of 2017 and is focused on Pueblo womxn centric
arts, activism and empowerment. We seek to reindigenize & rematriate
Pueblo Action Alliance was created in the wake of the Standing Rock
movement. Pueblo Camp relatives stood with the Oceti Sakowin relatives
to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Upon our return, we visioned
to build a Pueblo-centric organization that fights against the white
settler colonial power. We embody the revolutionary spirit of the
1680 Pueblo Revolt.
The Red Nation is dedicated to the liberation of Native peoples
from capitalism and colonialism. We center Native political agendas
and struggles through direct action, advocacy, mobilization, and