Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – It’s been a month since a group of protesters tore down the “Soldiers’ Monument” in Santa Fe’s historic Plaza, a 152-year-old obelisk that had sparked controversy in the community for decades.
Since then, police have arrested several protesters involved in the destruction of the monument that many people felt was a symbol of oppression of Native Americans. However, much of the focus has been on Mayor Alan Webber and the perceived inaction that led up to the toppling of the obelisk during an Indigenous Peoples Day demonstration.
On June 18, Webber spoke before a large crowd in the Plaza, joined by the Indigenous rights group Three Sisters’ Collective, and said the city would begin looking into safely removing the monument and creating a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But in the months that followed, city officials provided little update on the commission or on the fate of the obelisk.
Emails obtained by the Journal sent to and from Webber during that period show that there was discussion about the commission but that many of the efforts were slow going and communication with groups such as the Three Sisters’ Collective was scant.
What planning did take place was research into similar organizations around the world, emails show. Commissions based in North Carolina, South Africa and even Albuquerque were mentioned as potential models.
Webber also wrote in the emails that removing the obelisk and forming a commission would be complicated, just a few days after speaking to the crowd.
“There are apparently layers of law we have got to find our way through,” Webber wrote to Three Sisters’ on June 22, referring to removal of the obelisk.
Three Sisters’ Collective emailed the mayor’s office multiple times in the summer requesting updates on the obelisk’s removal, with some messages not receiving a response for months.
Tensions appear to have reached a boiling point in September, with emails showing Webber had talked with leaders from Three Sisters on Sept. 10 and said the city was still working on what a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would look like, three months after its original announcement. City Attorney Erin McSherry told the group about the complicated legal nature of the obelisk, which sits on a historic landmark.
During the weekend of Oct. 10, when protesters sat on top of the obelisk for hours, Three Sisters member Carrie Wood messaged her concerns.
“All of the scenarios I can imagine happening will end in the obelisk being taken down, either by the city or ‘the people,'” she wrote on Oct. 11, and called on the city to remove it.
Within 24 hours, protesters had torn down the obelisk. Webber and Santa Fe Police Chief Andrew Padilla have both said they had no reason to believe the protest would turn violent.
Much of the criticism of Webber focused on the fact that a commission had not yet been formed, which some believe raised tensions before the toppling.
In one email, though, Webber said he was unsure that would have made a difference.
“I doubt that even the existence of such a commission would have forestalled today’s events,” he wrote Oct. 12.
Webber told the Journal he was doubtful because some protesters took chains and ropes to the protest.