SANTA FE, N.M. — While American Indian rights groups plan another silent protest during today’s Entrada de Don Diego de Vargas – a re-enactment of the Spaniards’ re-occupation of Santa Fe in 1692 staged on the historic Plaza as part of the annual Fiesta de Santa Fe – they expect their voice will resonate much louder this time around.
American Indian rights groups the Red Nation and the Spirit of Po’pay, and Showing Up for Racial Justice, a civil rights group, plan to march on the Plaza just prior to the 2 p.m. Entrada.
How many protesters will assemble an hour earlier at nearby Cathedral Park, where a statute of de Vargas stands, is uncertain, but it figures to be more than the modest number of demonstrators at last year’s event.
“I feel the momentum,” said Elena Ortiz, who heads the Spirit of Po’pay, named for the Ohkay Owingeh medicine man who led the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. “I feel the time is ready for a change.”
The demonstrators want the Fiesta schedule to be changed to eliminate the Entrada as a public event supported by the city of Santa Fe, which contributes $50,000 to the promotion of the Fiesta, and steps up police and EMT services for the event. The Entrada doesn’t tell the whole story, they say – leaving out the killings and enslavement of pueblo people that came in the aftermath of de Vargas’ arrival – and it celebrates the subjugation of one race of people by another.
Fiesta organizers say that’s not it at all. The Entrada is about faith, they say. Don Diego de Vargas, the leader of the reconquest that came 12 years after the Pueblo Revolt sent the Spanish out of northern New Mexico, prayed to La Conquistadora, a Marian statue that plays a key role in the story of the Entrada, for a peaceful resettlement of the territory.
But Native people are focused on correcting what they call the revisionist history portrayed by the Entrada, which depicts a Tesuque cacique welcoming de Vargas back to the city.
While no blood was shed that day, de Vargas’ own journals reveal that he used intimidation tactics, showing his cannons and threatening to cut off the water supply. And, in the aftermath, horrific violence was used by both the Native and Spanish peoples against each other.
Celebrating ‘the wrong history’
During last year’s Entrada, fewer than 20 people took part in the protest, some of them wearing T-shirts with “1680” printed across the front and carrying signs that read “Don Diego Showed His Ammunition and Prepared for War,” and “In 1693 Don Diego executed 70 Warriors and Enslaved Hundreds of Women & Children.”
The protest was organized by Jessica Montoya, then with Tewa Women United, an intertribal support group for women based in Española, who once ran unsuccessfully for Fiesta Queen and participated in the Fiesta as a princessa. She wanted to step back from the controversy this year and asked Ortiz to step up.
“I said absolutely. I would be honored to do so,” said Ortiz, who remembers being “subjected to the Fiesta Court” as a student in Santa Fe schools. The Fiesta Court, including the actors who play roles in the Entrada, makes the rounds during Fiesta week, visiting local businesses and schools.
Ortiz says her mother told her, “This is not for us,” when the pageantry of the court paraded by. She has said the same to her daughter and son, “It’s felt very deeply and personal, particularly coming from Ohkay Owingeh,” Ortiz said, Po’pay’s pueblo.
“I think the Entrada needs to go away,” she said. “As human beings, this is not something we should be celebrating.”
Their side of the story
The Entrada, which dates from late 1950s and is staged by Los Cabelleros de Vargas, a Catholic ministry, has been interrupted by demonstrations in other years. A few times, the men playing the part of the cacique veered off script to chastise de Vargas during the performance.
City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez told the Journal recently that he encountered a line of Native people while portraying de Vargas during the 2000 Entrada. Though they just stood there and said nothing, “It was kind of intimidating,” he said.
In 1977, and for some years afterward, 19 pueblos staged a boycott of the entire Fiesta after the head of the Fiesta Council wrote a letter asking Indian vendors not to sell their wares on the Plaza during the event.
Ortiz estimates that from 35 to 100 people will participate in the protest today. The Red Nation, a Native rights advocacy group allied with Kiva Club students at the University of New Mexico, is expected to bring a crowd up from Albuquerque.
The group made news earlier this year by raising objections to UNM’s official seal, which features a Spanish conquistador and an Anglo frontiersman, which they find offensive and another example of subjugation by dominant cultures.
Also, a YouTube video taken Aug. 20 during the Santa Fe Indian Market shows a small group of protesters carrying a Red Nation banner getting into a brief tug-of-war with security guards.
Ortiz said Showing Up for Racial Justice, or SURJ, is a national organization that, as its name suggests, comes out for demonstrations that center on racial issues. The group is made up of white people who lend their race to the cause as white people are less likely to be accosted by objectors or police during protests that become emotionally charged, Ortiz said.
A SURJ member declined to comment for this article, saying it’s the Native voices that should be heard.
Organizers intend to address those gathered at Cathedral Park at 1:30 p.m., encouraging them to remain peaceful and non-confrontational, before marching to the Plaza. She said there are no plans to interrupt the presentation of the hourlong Entrada itself. “This is meant to be peaceful, respectful,” she said. “We’re not trying to destroy the Fiesta for Santa Fe. We just want to see it become more inclusive.”
Santa Fe Police Chief Patrick Gallagher said he was meeting with the mayor and police officers Thursday to discuss how to handle what has the potential to become a volatile situation. “That’s what our officers deal with on a daily basis, be it a domestic incident or child custody,” he said. Asked what he will tell his officers, he said, “Empathy is always a good skill to use, and patience. And that’s what we’ll be stressing.”
Gallagher said he was also reaching out to protest organizers to help make sure things don’t get out of hand.
“They can show up to tell their story, but telling it violently tells a different story,” he said.
Little progress in past year
The city’s response to last year’s protest has been unsatisfactory in the eyes of those who want to see change.
A day after last year’s demonstration, Mayor Javier Gonzales, who portrayed de Vargas during the Entrada in 1989, called for a more “truthful” telling of the story.
Also, city councilors introduced a resolution to hold a symposium each year that would address the history of Santa Fe and Fiestas, “and the dynamic interplay of cultures within the city of Santa Fe, both then and now.”
But the measure went nowhere. The city also flubbed what might have been viewed as an act of reconciliation by declaring the traditional Columbus Day holiday Indigenous People’s Day, but only after the fact.
In August, the mayor announced that he would introduce legislation to make Indigenous People’s Day permanent. The same release said the mayor was convening “groundbreaking talks” between the Fiesta Council and Tesuque Pueblo about Fiesta, and that the Fiesta Council and Los Caballeros de Vargas had agreed to “sit down at the table, face to face, with the Tesuque people to begin a long overdue conversation.”
Fiesta Council President Dean Milligan said this week that those discussions haven’t happened yet. “It will happen after Fiestas,” he said in a phone interview. The mayor had suggested a few dates this week, Milligan said, but, with Fiestas going on, there wasn’t time to fit them into his schedule.
Milligan said that any changes in the Entrada this year were up to Los Caballeros. “We have no say in what they do. The Caballeros, they do their own thing,” he said.
Joe Mier, the Caballeros president, didn’t return a recent phone call from the Journal. “It’s a celebration, not that we conquered anyone,” Mier told the Journal in July. “It’s a religious celebration. That should be the main focus.”
Milligan made a point in saying that the Fiesta Council itself has reached out to the American Indian community and that two Native people are on the council. “We’ve always had Native Americans a part of us. They know exactly what the Fiesta Council does,” he said, adding that Native people select representatives on the Fiestas’ Royal Court, approved by the pueblo governor.
Milligan also said that he hasn’t heard from the protesters. “Everybody has a right to free speech, but unless they reach out and try to discuss what they’re protesting about, how can we discuss those problems?” he asked.
Mayor Gonzales said this week that he’s confident discussions between Fiesta organizers and Native people will happen soon. Asked if it might be time for the Entrada to be eliminated from the Fiesta program, the mayor wouldn’t go that far. But he suggested that the script was in need of changing.
“I think that it’s certainly time to have an honest narrative of what happened in 1692,” he said.
Gonzales said he grew up believing the story that there was a peaceful resettlement 400 years ago, only to learn otherwise as he grew older. He said that, had he known the whole story, he would have given more thought to portraying de Vargas in 1989, as his father had done before him.
He remains proud of his own heritage, he said, but for Santa Fe to truly be a city that celebrates its unique blend of cultures, a more honest dialogue needs to take place. “It’s important if we’re going to be able to heal the wounds of what happened in 1692 with the reentry of de Vargas,” he said.
Coming full circle
The Fiesta Court on Wednesday visited Monte del Sol charter school, where Ortiz’s son is a senior. The court came by a day after former Tesuque Gov. Gil Vigil, now executive director of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, talked to students about the Entrada from the Native perspective.
That perspective was never presented when Ortiz was in school. The fact that it was before her son graduated is encouraging to her and a sign that the call for change is picking up momentum.
She is also encouraged that a small group of students at Santa Fe High School silently protested the appearance of the Fiesta Court this week by displaying signs, one of which read “Stop celebrating an inaccurate Entrada.”
“The times are changing,” Ortiz said. “It seems it’s time for the entire thing to come full circle.”