Editor’s note: Lolita Pena Christobal passed away Dec. 14. This op-ed is written in loving memory of her. The opinions expressed here do not represent the Santa Ana Tribal Council or the All Pueblo Council of Governors.
“Ammu Hanu Sicti, Ammu Hanu Sicti,” she starts by speaking in Keres. Where the conscious memory begins, “We pray for justice, and that these acts of terrorism will remind the world of the violence it took to take this land.” My mother, Lolita Pena Christobal, born on Sept. 4, 1922, at Santa Ana Pueblo (Tamaya) and is, at the age of 96, the Pueblo’s matriarch, is speaking of the atrocities committed by the conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in the winter of 1540.
On Sept. 10, 2017, the Sandoval County Historical Society honored her as a Pueblo woman who has earned a much-deserved place in the history of the Southwest. Because of the Pueblo elders’ remarkable accomplishments, the Hanu – the People – have remained strong in identity and spiritual beliefs. Most importantly, the Keres native language continues to be spoken. Today, the 20 indigenous pueblos remain intact to tell their view of this horrific destruction of life. The Tigua nation in El Paso is the 20th member of the All Pueblo Council of Governors.
Spanish archives indicate there were 99 Indian pueblos in New Mexico. Eighty of the pueblos were destroyed and never again repopulated. There was a 90 percent decrease in population within a period of only 20 years. It must be acknowledged, our voices must be heard. The ancient pueblo of Ghufoor is evidenced today by a mound of dirt on Bernalillo’s westside. The Spanish altered its name to Coofor and later to Santiago. Currently, a housing development is on the site.
In 1980, work crews uncovered charcoal stains along the side of N.M. 528 near Santiago Pueblo. Metal artifacts found provided evidence of lead balls, cross bow arrow tips, steel dagger tips and copper used for body armor.
Conclusions of first contact! Coronado’s search for the fabled seven cities of Cibola was based on greed for gold, bloodshed and genocide. Demand is made that the state of New Mexico change the name of Coronado Historic Site. The name Coronado will forever symbolize political power and will greet visitors with a message of indigenous human suffering. We must revise the official history recounting Coronado’s contributions and stress the remarkable resistance of the indigenous peoples of New Mexico.
Today, we continue to live at Tamaya – old village – near present-day Zia Pueblo. When Juan de Oñate colonized New Mexico in 1598, the area around Bernalillo was prime farmland and Spanish settlers began forcing our people off their ancestral lands.
A testament to our survival is evident today in an official scenic historical marker at the entrance to Tamaya, which documents only a footnote of history. It is not worthy of our survival. By 1690, Santa Ana’s population was at 90 survivors, according to Spanish archives.
A papal bull of Pope Alexander VI, the Doctrine of Discovery, granted the West Indies to the Kings of Castille through a form of colonial land policy called the Mercedes, whereby Spain took possession of indigenous lands. In English, the Mercedes are called the Spanish land grants. Whose land was it that Spain was granting so freely to Spanish settlers? It was stolen Indian land!
In 1709, and continuing through the 18th Century, Santa Ana Pueblo (Tamaya) successfully began buying its former lands back. Documents relating to Santa Ana’s land purchases are in the official records of the Spanish archives of New Mexico. Our ancestors made sacrifices so we might retain what little land we now hold in trust. Now it is our responsibility to carry on that struggle to protect our sacred lands from encroachment by the outside world. It is possible to be proud of our oral histories today. We can honor our ancestors’ reverence for the sacred land and people.
Oral history has its merit among indigenous peoples since time immemorial, long before any Spanish chroniclers’ written accounts. We shall endure as Hanu – the People – as the Creator intended for us, in this contemporary time. The Santa Ana Keresan-speaking people include Zia, Cochiti, Kewa – formerly Santo Domingo – San Felipe, Acoma and Laguna pueblos.
Today, we honor our elders. We are deeply indebted for much that is known today, for the elders preserve the oral history of the People. As pueblo people, we must secure our inherent rights to speak the truth, without fear of intimidation and retaliation.
It is time to speak the truth and de-colonize our pueblo minds.