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Some in SF accuse consultant of ‘co-opting’ Native identities

A woman reads a plaque placed on the remains of the Santa Fe Plaza obelisk, which was destroyed during an Indigenous Peoples Day rally in October. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – City leaders here have embarked on a Herculean effort to address controversial monuments immortalizing figures long derided for their brutal treatment of Native Americans.

But that reconciliation process is off to a rocky start with the city’s hiring of a consultant that some in the community accuse of “co-opting” Native identities by claiming Diné and San Ildefonso Pueblo heritage.

Santa Fe city councilors on Wednesday unanimously approved a $254,000 contract with Albuquerque-based Artful Life as the consultant for its Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth process.

Several speakers at the meeting objected to co-founder Valerie Martinez’s claims of Indigenous heritage.

For her part, Martinez says she grew up in Santa Fe and she isn’t claiming to be solely Indigenous, but of “mixed blood,” like many New Mexicans.

People accused her of claiming her Indigenous heritage from a 23andMe DNA test, but she said she knew about her heritage before she took the test 10 years ago. She added that she isn’t a member of the Navajo Nation, or any pueblo, and she stressed that she isn’t saying she is.

“This idea of, you know, claiming or co-opting, it’s a weird conversation,” she said. “I’m trying to claim all the parts of me, all of them, and I think lots of people do that.”

The CHART resolution was passed by councilors in January to help the city determine how to move forward after the October 2020 Indigenous Peoples Day rally that resulted in the destruction of the Santa Fe Plaza’s obelisk.

There isn’t a requirement for the CHART consultant to be Indigenous, but, according to the bid for services, the consultant should have “experience in cultural competency” for communities in northern New Mexico and Santa Fe, among other requirements.

The Santa Fe Plaza’s obelisk has been a flashpoint for the community, in which different groups claim it represents, or disrespects, their heritage. Originally dedicated as a “Soldiers’ Monument” commemorating Union troops who fought Civil War battles in New Mexico, it once bore an inscription honoring those who fought battles against “savage Indians.”

Union Protectíva de Santa Fe is currently suing the city of Santa Fe and Mayor Alan Webber over the obelisk’s restoration, stating the monument represents their Spanish heritage.

Christina M. Castro, co-founder of Indigenous rights group the Three Sisters Collective, said Martinez is “co-opting” Diné and Pueblo identities. She said the city needs to start listening to Indigenous voices.

“The CHART process will continue to flail and flounder if you continue to engage people who are not representing the Pueblo and Diné communities, and the larger Native American community,” she said.

Webber urged the community to have faith in the CHART process. He said the contract approval is a “historic opportunity” for the community to move forward.