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As monument debate rages, Catua and Omtua wait

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Pojoaque Pueblo artist George Rivera poses outside his studio with a sculpture of Omtua and Catua, Tesuque runners who spread word of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

It has been more than two years since the city of Santa Fe formally accepted the gift of a sculpture from Tesuque Pueblo. And it may be another two years or more before the bronze sculpture of Catua and Omtua – two young Tesuque men who ran from pueblo to pueblo carrying the message of an uprising against the Spanish in 1680 – is installed outside City Hall.

“We are not close to having the project completed,” city spokeswoman Lilia Chacon said in a statement to the Journal. “Due to the fiscal impact of the pandemic, the Finance Department issued that all non-essential projects and spending be deferred. Budget decisions regarding this project have not yet been finalized.”

Facing what was projected to be a $100 million deficit heading into the fiscal year that began July 1 due to the coronavirus outbreak, the $46,000 the city was to spend on landscaping may well be deemed a nonessential expense – at least until the city regains its financial footing.

The funding was to come out of the Arts in Public Places budget, as per the May 2018 resolution accepting the sculpture.

The pause in the project also comes at a time when Santa Fe is contemplating the fate of its current statues and monuments during what has turned into a national reckoning over issues of racism and white supremacy brought about by the Black Lives Movement.

In some cities across America, protests have led to statues of Confederate generals and slave owners being taking down – sometimes by city leaders and sometimes by the demonstrators themselves – and, last week, the state of Mississippi retired its state flag featuring the rebel battle banner.

Locally, Native American groups and their allies have been demanding the removal of monuments honoring their oppressors. And last month, Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber had the statue of Don Diego de Vargas, who led the Spanish resettlement of northern New Mexico in 1692, removed from Cathedral Park and put away for safe-keeping.

Vandals defaced obelisks honoring Indian fighter Kit Carson outside the federal courthouse and the Soldiers’ Monument at the center of Santa Fe’s historic Plaza, spray painting “Stolen Land” on both of them.

So a yet-to-be-installed sculpture honoring two heroes of the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish becomes part of the conversation and, in fact, was brought up by one woman during what was at times a contentious public comment session at last week’s City Council meeting.

While some people praised the mayor for having the de Vargas statue removed, he also took criticism for “erasing history” and acting on his own to have the life-sized figurine of the conquistador hauled away from the park by way of emergency proclamation.

Webber’s proclamation also called for the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to review the city’s various monuments and “make recommendations to the City regarding the future of the City’s historic statues and monuments … and other matters of education, historic trauma, and systematic racism.”

A place in history

The sculpture of Catua and Omtua may, too, fall under review by the commission, but its future was spelled out in the 2018 resolution accepting the sculpture as a gift. It calls for the sculpture to be installed in the northwest corner of the plaza area between City Hall and the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.

The courtyard of the Santa Fe Community Convention Center is dedicated to Tesuque Pueblo runners Catua and Omtua. (T.S. Last/Albuquerque Journal)

The courtyard of the convention center, which was built on land once occupied by the ancestral home of Taytsugeh Oweengeh, the traditional name for the Tesuque people, is already dedicated to the messengers.

Given that, it may not be a matter of where the sculpture will be installed, but when?

Once the project gets the green light, spokeswoman Chacon said the city would probably have to restart a monthslong process to retain a contractor to perform the landscaping and build a boulder base on which the sculpture will rest.

Lisa Gavioloi Roach, the city’s Historic Preservation Division manager, said the Office of Archaeological Studies has already prepared a testing plan “to ensure compliance with cultural resource protection requirements, as the sculpture is located within the archaeological site boundaries of the ancestral Puebloan settlement known as the ‘White Shell Water Place’ or O’gha Po’oge, as well as historic structures associated with Fort Marcy.”

The convention center courtyard pays homage to the reconciliation that has taken place between the Tesuque people and the current residents of Santa Fe, be they Hispanic, Anglo or other ethnicity.

A plaque there acknowledges the land was the ancestral home of the Tesuque, then goes on to say, “Today, Taytsugeh Oweengeh and the city of Santa Fe continue to share history and to celebrate the cultural richness of New Mexico.”

The courtyard was chosen as the site of the 2018 ceremonial signing of a new reconciliation proclamation that did away with the Entrada, a performance celebrating the “peaceful” resettlement of New Mexico by the Spanish held during the Santa Fe Fiesta. That event had drawn increasingly hostile protests by Native-led groups in prior years.

Carrying a message

The sculpture of Catua and Omtua is being made by George Rivera, whose sculpture of Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Leroy Petry already stands in front of City Hall.

He says the idea of doing a sculpture depicting the pueblo runners was meant to give Native people voice. The history that’s heard about and taught in schools isn’t written by the indigenous people, but by the dominant culture.

And it’s true. There are plenty of statues, streets, schools and buildings named for Spanish, Hispanic and Anglos in Santa Fe, but few prominent public tributes to Native people, the statute of Kateri Tekakwitha in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi being a notable exception.

“The message of the sculpture that Tesuque and the city agreed upon was that over the long history between them, part of that history was not being told,” Rivera said. “This piece brings out some of that history.”

Catua and Omtua were youths from Tesuque tasked with delivering to neighboring pueblos a knotted rope used to count down the days before the planned uprising. They were later captured by the Spanish and hung in the Santa Fe Plaza. The Pueblo Revolt began the next day.

“It was a pivotal time in history, when the pueblo people gained their freedom, gained the horse, and retained their culture and language,” he said.

Rivera’s sculpture depicts the two boys in stride with a determined glance toward each other and each holding a small piece of knotted twine in one hand.

Like Rivera’s Petry sculpture, it is made of bronze with accents of stainless steel.

It’s not quite complete. Rivera says he’s close, needing only to add some coloring to the bronze as a finishing touch.

Part of a conversation

Rivera is not from Tesuque, but from nearby Pojoaque and served previously as governor of that pueblo.

“I’m both Spanish and Indian,” he said. “I grew up in the city and in the pueblo.”

So his perspective of controversy over Santa Fe’s monuments comes from different angles.

The obelisks are atrocious, he said, both aesthetically and because of what they stand for.

Kit Carson is viewed by many indigenous people as an Indian killer and the man who led the Navajo on the “Long Walk” from their homeland to years of internment under miserable conditions at Bosque Redondo.

Though erected as a monument to Union soldiers who fought Civil War battles in New Mexico, the Plaza obelisk also honored those who fought “savage” Indians in territorial times – at least until someone chiseled away the offensive word in the 1970s during the American Indian Movement.

“Symbolically, they are out of place,” he says of the obelisks.

He’s also not a fan of de Vargas either, saying that, post-rebellion, the Spaniard led a reign of murder and rape.

“It’s not about the Spanish people,” he said of the removal of the de Vargas statue. “It’s not a matter of wiping out anyone’s heritage and culture. I think there’s a lot of other good people with Spanish background that could be honored.”

Rivera applauds Mayor Webber’s efforts to bridge the gap and help all sides “get past” the hard feelings that are still felt more than 300 years later.

“The dialogue the mayor is talking about starting, getting people to show up, and bringing in historians to talk about it, that’s a good conversation to have,” he said. “I look forward to the conversation and see what comes of it.”


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