Natives Speak Out Against the Santa Fe Fiesta - The Bloodless Reconquest
A loud group of about 50 mostly Native protesters disrupted the Entrada kickoff event of the Fiestas de Santa Fe. This is the annual reenactment of Don Diego de Vargas’s “peaceful reconquest” of Santa Fe in 1692 as produced by Caballeros de Vargas, a group which is a member of the Fiesta Council, and several current and past City of Santa Fe Councilors are members of the Fiesta Council or played parts in the Entrada over the years. So these are layers you must wade through when people ask questions and protesters demand changes. And changes or outright abolishment of The Entrada are what the groups “The Red Nation” and “In The Spirit of Popay” are asking for.
The protesters chanted “1680”, and “Abolish the Entrada” as they marched down streets around the historic block. They confronted the Caballeros on horseback in mid-Entrada and the horses would go no further due to the noise. They were met with loud cheers of “Viva la Fiesta” and “Que Viva” by Fiesta supporters. The police had asked the protesters not to use their bullhorn during the ceremonies and they quieted when a Pueblo dance group did a Buffalo Dance as a part of the Fiesta ceremony and a Catholic priest prayed on the bandstand.
The protests continued during the re-enactment speeches as police tightly circled them. The protestors marched around the block followed by police and back to Cathedral Park where they conducted a talk circle and interviews.
Their demands are very specific and include ending the Entrada; ending the Fiesta Court’s visits to schools, as young students are indoctrinated in a false narrative that includes religion even before they are taught New Mexican history; teaching a Pueblo-centric view of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and the Spanish return in 1692; and cutting off city funding for a religious event they see as a violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state.
As part of reconciliation, Pueblo speakers have gone to schools to tell their side of the narrative in recent years. This year a documentary by director Jaima Chevalier is part of the mix and she filmed the protests to be included in the 18-month project, tentatively titled “Veiled Lightning: A Native R/evolution”. A past documentary was “Surviving Columbus” a PBS documentary from 1992 but that was 25 years ago and the Entrada passion play continues every year conducted by a brotherhood of Catholic men, practically unchanged.
Red Nation spokeswoman Jennifer Marley said, “We were met with an excessive police presence hours before the protest, which was much more significant than security in years past. The police were… militarized and included snipers dressed in camo on rooftops above the Plaza. The police tried to designate a specified rallying place for us but we refused, citing that we were practicing our 1st Amendment rights on our land. During the protest we were met with a slew of hateful and racist remarks from the fiesta goers, even physical assault which I personally experienced from two older men in front of police, who then proceeded to reprimand me as the assailants were still contacting me.”
Fiesta has had a sporadic history of violence and the City moved events over the years to manage the crowds. After a gang-related shooting in which a teenager was killed in 1997, the police presence has been ramped up. The Santa Fe police response resembled what every American city police force looks like these days in dealing with all the protests around the country.
The Red Nation and In the Spirit of Popay gave their demands to Mayor Javier Gonzales, who had attempted to call for a community symposium after last year’s protest and before this year with little results. Small changes have been made over the years in reaction to Native protests but the sticking point has been that Natives were killed and made slaves in the aftermath and that has been ignored. Elena Ortiz, of In the Spirit of Popay, said “If we don’t get any changes, like what happened last year, we’ll be here the same time next year.”
The historical background is this. First, locals will tell you that Santa Fe was a pueblo called Ogapoge, or Ogha Po’oge, “White Shell Water Place” in Tewa. In 1680 the medicine man Popay of Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo), led the Pueblo Revolt on August 10 in which the Spanish settlers had to flee Santa Fe and northern New Mexico to El Paso, their numbers were around 2000 combined along with Indian servants. The Spanish attempted a return in 1681 with 300 men but were turned back by the pueblo warriors.
Popay died in 1688 and his revolution died with him as Navajo, Apache, Ute and Comanche raiders continued to plunder pueblo communities. These raids created an opportunity for the Spanish and in 1692, Governor Diego de Vargas, arrived back in Santa Fe, with an army of 150 Spanish soldiers and southern Pueblo warriors. He promised pardon rather than punishment and after the pueblos at first shouted resistance, De Vargas turned cannon on them and they relented without any shots fired. That was the so-called peaceful reconquest of Santa Fe that is re-enacted by the Caballeros de Santa Fe every September as part of the Fiestas. They call the celebration a “moment in time” when the co-operation between the Spanish and the Natives would presage the future of New Mexico.
What the Native groups are protesting is when de Vargas returned to Santa Fe in December 1693 with 100 soldiers, 70 families, at least 18 Franciscan friars and several Native American allies, his encounter with the Pueblo people was not peaceful and very bloody. After a two-day battle, de Vargas and his Indian allies claimed victory. A total of 81 Pueblo people died in the attack.
Per the popular textbook, A History of New Mexico, De Vargas then ordered every surviving warrior who had fought against the Spaniards - 70 in all - executed by firing squad. The 400 who had surrendered voluntarily, including women and children, were divided up among the colonists and sentenced to 10 years of servitude.
The Red Nation protesters point out the Santa Fe Plaza was a place where natives were distributed as slaves and where rebels were hanged over the years. Similar actions would continue in northern New Mexico as each pueblo had to be subdued until December 1696 after which most of the pueblos reluctantly acquiesced to Spanish control. The “Reconquista” allowed the pueblos some protection against raiders and to be able to keep their gardens and communities safe, but the Spanish would demand that pueblos provide workers via the encomienda system. They could keep their native religion but put on displays of Catholic religion, rebuild churches, celebrate their Saint days and observe certain Christian rituals.
For further reading: A Settling of Accounts: The Journals of don Diego de Vargas, New Mexico, 1700-1704. Edited by John L. Kessell, Rick Hendricks, Meredith Dodge and Larry Miller, University of New Mexico Press, 2010. Po’Pay: Leader of the First American Revolution, by Joe Sando and Herman Agoyo, Clear Light Publishing, 2005. The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion that Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest, by David Roberts, Simon and Schuster, 2005. White Shell Water Place: Native American Reflections on the 400th Anniversary of the Founding of Santa Fe, edited by Richard Sanchez, Sunstone Press 2010.
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