SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Crews in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Thursday removed a statue of a Spanish territorial governor from a city park and two other markers were slated to come down as monuments to historical figures were being dismantled across the country.
The statue of Don Diego de Vargas was taken down ahead of a rally in Santa Fe organized by indigenous advocates. They have long criticized some of the markers and other references to the Spanish conquistadors who settled the area that includes the 400-year-old city and to U.S. government forces who later oppressed Native American tribes.
In calling for the removal of the statue and two historical markers, Democratic Mayor Alan Webber also vowed to revive a commission that will evaluate all the statues and monuments in Santa Fe and help determine their fate.
“The time has come, I believe, for us to step into the moment and to walk into the future and take decisive action,” Webber said in a post on Facebook. “But simply leaving things as they are is not an option.”
A few hundred people gathered at Santa Fe’s historic downtown plaza Thursday evening for the rally at which they applauded Webber’s decision. Two men from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo started the celebration with a drum song.
De Vargas led what some history books call a peaceful resettlement of Santa Fe in 1692, a dozen years after the Spanish were driven out of northern New Mexico during the Pueblo Revolt. Many indigenous people argue that he enslaved their ancestors and led a genocidal campaign against Native Americans.
Elsewhere in New Mexico, statues of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate were recently removed and placed into temporary storage until officials decide what to do with them. In Albuquerque, a protest Monday night ended with one man being shot and injured and police being criticized for not stepping in sooner to quell the violence that led to the shooting.
One of the Santa Fe monuments to be removed under the mayor’s call is an obelisk in front of the federal courthouse that recognizes frontiersman Kit Carson, who was tasked by the military with removing Navajos from their land. As part of the effort, thousands of Navajos were forcibly marched to the Bosque Redondo reservation in eastern New Mexico — many of them dying along the way — after the military destroyed their crops and livestock.
The marker was recently spray painted red with the words “stolen land.”
The other obelisk was erected in 1868 to honor Union soldiers who fought Civil War battles in New Mexico. It stands at the center of the plaza, where the crowd gathered Thursday.
The obelisk was dedicated in part to the “heroes” who died in battle with “savage Indians,” according to an inscription on the war monument. In 1974, when the American Indian Movement was advocating for Native American rights, an unidentified man chiseled away the word “savage.”
City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler said councilors in 1973 had voted unanimously to remove the obelisk but they later learned they had no say in the matter since the historic downtown square is a National Historic Landmark and on the State Register of Cultural Properties.
The city at some point installed a plaque stating that monument texts reflect the character of the times in which they were written and the temper of those who wrote them, and that attitudes change and “prejudices hopefully dissolve.” Native Americans still consider the monument racist and say it celebrates violence.
Lynn Trujillo, secretary for the state Indian Affairs Department, praised the Santa Fe mayor for saying he would take down the three monuments and revisit the others.
“It is no longer enough to present just one version of history,” she said. “We owe it to all those who lived it to portray the full complexity of our shared past.”
Associated Press/Report for America writer Cedar Attanasio contributed to this report.