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          Front Page

Po'pay Statue Installed in Capitol

By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
    WASHINGTON, D.C.— A statue of a revolutionary war hero was installed under the U.S. Capitol dome here Thursday.
    No big news— except that the towering marble sculpture was of Po'pay, a pueblo Indian who conspired to drive the Spanish from what is now New Mexico nearly 100 years before the better-known American revolution began.
    The installation of the leader of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt in the Capitol Rotunda was itself a bit of a battle.
    As Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, tugged on one side and Sen. Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, pulled on the other, the burgundy drape that had concealed Po'pay through an hour of speeches got caught on the sculpture's head and refused to budge for the big unveiling.
    With hundreds of spectators looking on— many of them who had traveled from New Mexico pueblos— the senators tugged some more. Then Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., tried unsuccessfully to toss the drape over the still-hooded 7-foot-tall stone statue.
    Finally, New Mexico Indian Affairs Secretary Benny Shendo Jr. shook the cover loose and Po'pay was revealed to thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
    Po'pay stood tall and brown as he was lauded as a hero and the savior of pueblo Indian culture.
    Oiled Tennessee marble made him the only non-white marble statue in the Capitol collection. And his name was spelled using the Tewa spelling rather than the more common Spanish spelling of Popé.
    Joe Garcia, the governor of San Juan Pueblo, where Po'pay was born, approached the statue with corn pollen and a Tewa prayer.
    "This strong leader stood up," said Garcia, who is now working toward officially changing his pueblo's name back to Ohkay Owingeh. "He did not do it for himself. He did it for the pueblo people. Had it not been for that, I could not stand here today, speak my language, do my blessing."
Historic addition
    The addition of Po'pay is historic in several ways.
    He is the 100th and final addition to National Statuary Hall; each state gets to place two statues. New Mexico's other statue is of Sen. Dennis Chavez.
    Po'pay is the earliest living historical figure to be enshrined; he is one of only six Native Americans depicted in the collection; and his is the only statue by a Native American artist, Jemez Pueblo sculptor Cliff Fragua.
    The installation took nearly a decade, cost more than $200,000 and survived opposition from Hispanic New Mexicans who called Po'pay a butcher of their forebearers, undeserving of such an honor.
    "Po'pay is not without controversy," Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., acknowledged during the ceremony. "But he did change the course of history in New Mexico."
    He did that, in a time when Indian men had no horses and traveled by foot, by organizing the people of two dozen pueblos, speaking six different languages, spread over nearly 400 miles, to rise up and defeat the Spanish colonizers.
    It is a feat still little understood because pueblo language, and therefore much of its history, is unwritten. But its effects are apparent today in the 19 pueblos in New Mexico, each with its own government, with members speaking native languages and with life still revolving around the religious ceremonies Po'pay and others fought to protect.
    "His victorious struggle against those who sought to tear apart the people of New Mexico's pueblos ensured that the culture, tradition and religion of those people would remain as strong and vibrant as it is today," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
82 years in the making
    The Pueblo Revolt came after 82 years of painful subservience, of forced labor and religious persecution at the hands of Spanish conquerors. Resentment and fear for the pueblos' future bubbled up in the summer of 1680 and, in a secret meeting at Taos Pueblo, Po'pay was chosen to lead a revolt.
    The Po'pay that stands now in Statuary Hall wears a deerskin kilt, bears the scars of whippings on his back and holds a length of knotted deerskin, similar to the ones delivered to each of the two dozen pueblos to be used to count down the days to revolution.
    As it turned out, news of the pending revolt spread and the insurrection began a day early— on Aug. 10— with the killing of a priest in the hills outside Taos Pueblo.
    In the coming days, 21 Franciscan friars and about 400 Spaniards were killed, churches were burned and houses were ransacked.
    Surrounded in Santa Fe without food and water, Spanish Gov. Antonio de Otermín led the remaining 1,000 Spaniards down the Rio Grande Valley in retreat to El Paso.
    For 12 years, pueblo life returned to normal, with religious dances and other ceremonies coming once again into the open. What happened to Po'pay after the revolt is less clear.
    Some believe Po'pay returned to his civic duties at Ohkay Owingeh. Others say he became an oppressor of his own people. He is believed to have died around 1688.
    Po'pay was gone when the Spanish crown returned in 1692 to reclaim what's now New Mexico, but his legacy lived on. With the violent rejection of their countrymen still fresh in their minds, the next wave of colonists showed more tolerance for pueblo religion, language and culture.
    On Thursday, before the Ohkay Owingeh Dance Group performed the buffalo dance and throngs of pueblo members streamed up to the statue to pull out leather pouches and offer corn to Po'pay, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., described the Pueblo Revolt as having "at its core a basic human need to challenge oppressors."
    Shendo, a native of Jemez Pueblo, said Po'pay— standing for the time being between President Andrew Jackson and President Dwight D. Eisenhower— is a symbol for the future more than a token of the past.
    "I look at it as hope for the future," Shendo said. "People can come here and see this and know that we're here and we're strong."