In this article, Red Nation activist Jennifer Marley gives us insights of the actions undertaken by Indigenous activists in Santa Fe since 2015. Protesting “The Entrada,” a celebration that commemorates the violent colonial reconquest of Pueblo lands in New Mexico, they successfully abolished it in 2017.
Within so-called “New Mexico” live several Native Nations, the majority of which are Pueblo Nations comprised of Tewa, Tiwa, Towa, Keres, and Zuni people. Of all the Native peoples in North America, Pueblo people are the only ones who have experienced the triple conquest of Spain, Mexico, and the United States. But their traditions of resistance are as old as the history of conquest. The Pueblo revolt of 1680 is the first Indigenous rebellion that successfully ousted colonizers from Pueblo lands. Prior to this, the Tiguex War in the 1540s forced the conquistador Coronado to retreat for 80 days after he had attempted to make contact with Pueblo people for the first time. Pueblo people would lead a series of at least five rebellions prior to the 1680 Pueblo revolt, and at least four after, which continued well into the mid-1800s when U.S. settlers were targeted and killed. The Revolt of 1680, however, is known for its immense success and is in turn used in settler narratives to justify the intensified conquest that would follow, painting Pueblo people as “reformed savages” who only by the cross came to be peaceful and subservient. Today, this resistance to settler colonialism continues in the form of a grassroots movement that seeks to confront revisionist history and the continued celebration of conquest and genocide. Galvanizing support for this revived movement were the recent protests against the Entrada, a racist reenactment of the brutal conquest of O gah Po’geh Owingeh or “the white shell water place”; the original Tewa name for so-called “Santa Fe.”
The 1680 Pueblo revolt was led by Tewa spiritual leader PoPay. With his leadership and years of tireless organizing, Pueblo people pushed back Spanish invaders to El Paso where they retreated for 12 years. In Autumn of 1692 the Spanish returned, led by the infamously brutal conquistador Don Diego de Vargas. Unbeknownst to the Spaniards, Pueblo people had been preparing for their return and secretly planned a second rebellion. Upon the arrival of the colonists, Pueblo people pretended to forgo their own spirituality and convert to Catholicism, publicly displaying their devotion to Jesus and the Cross. But in late December of that year, Pueblos once again revolted. The battle lasted eight days and left countless Pueblo warriors dead, with many Pueblo women distributed to Spanish families as slaves. The return of the Spanish in 1692 would become known as “The Bloodless Reconquest” (“Reconquista”) by generations of New Mexicans to come. Pueblo men suspected of being conspirators in the December uprising were hung at the gallows that stood in the Santa Fe Plaza where, today, Palace and Lincoln streets intersect. About 80 men would be publicly executed here to serve as examples of what would happen to rebels under Spanish rule. The Santa Fe Plaza, like many plazas established in Spanish settlements, was a center for these public executions, but also a center for social life and the trade and exchange of goods. Native women and girls from various tribes continue to be trafficked and traded as commodities in this very space that Pueblo people would be tortured and executed. This was also where the Spanish would establish their religious centers, building three major cathedrals in this area.
What is known as the Santa Fe Plaza today is a small and compact area taking up only about two square miles, yet it is a highly political space with a rich and disturbing history. It is crucial to recontextualize this space by unearthing this violent history, and unpacking what scholar Chris Wilson calls “The Myth of Santa Fe” (1997). Today Santa Fe is known as a so-called “art mecca” and is home to some of the wealthiest art collectors, entrepreneurs, and even celebrities. Native peoples simply existing here are subjected to bordertown violence and racism, unless of course, they are there as a spectacle, an object, a performance, or as an artisan who caters to the white and wealthy. Santa Fe is one of the oldest bordertowns in New Mexico and one of the first major capitalist hubs in the western hemisphere. A bordertown in this case refers to a town or city surrounded by Native lands and reservations, they are cities that extract wealth from Native peoples and lands while they remain impoverished and vulnerable to state-sanctioned and vigilante violence. In few places does the unique architecture and aesthetic play such a key role in the production of historical myth-making and the facilitation of systemic anti-Indian violence, as it does in Santa Fe and more specifically the Santa Fe plaza.
Of course, the so-called “Reconquista” was anything but bloodless. Yet over the years, tireless state and church-sanctioned efforts to revise this moment in history would reshape narratives around New Mexico’s origin story, and the histories of the people that live there. This revision of history began with an annual celebration of the Reconquista, first documented in 1712, just 20 years after it took place. This celebration was primarily religious in nature with the main focus being processions featuring La Conquistadora. La Conquistadora, or “Our Lady of Conquest” is a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary that was said to be rescued from a burning church during the 1680 Pueblo revolt. La Conquistadora presently resides in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, a cathedral that draws tourists from all over the world for its beautifully intricate architecture and for being one of the oldest cathedrals of its kind in the U.S.. This Cathedral however, like most churches constructed by the Spanish, sits atop a Pueblo holy site, a sacred hot spring named after the area by the Tewa. It was built over as a deliberate show of dominance. This sacred hot spring was known as the white shell water place or O gah Po’geh. In the park that sits
directly outside this cathedral, Native peoples are frequently harassed by the police for living on their own lands, accused of loitering, and jailed for selling jewelry and wares to tourists without city permits. This park is also the site of two controversial statues, one that pays homage to Spanish Governor Don Diego de Vargas, and another that celebrates the goods that the Spanish are said to have brought to the land, featuring various livestock, fruits, vegetables and textiles. Santa Fe does not hide its inclination toward European supremacy. Such depictions are almost always shown against the backdrop of Pueblo aesthetics as if it were consolation for the glorification of genocide.
The preliminary version of what would come to be known as the “Entrada” (the entry) continued through the mid-1700s. Then, in 1883, after a lapse of more than 100 years, the Entrada was revived as a primarily religious celebration. 40 years later, it was appropriated by recently-settled U.S. entrepreneurs, scholars, and artists, most of whom were non-Native board members of the Museum of New Mexico and School of American Research. These outsiders, led by the much-heralded grave-robber Edgar Lee Hewitt, added elements to the celebration to make it more appealing to tourists and visitors to Santa Fe. Hewitt was an acclaimed anthropologist known for unlawfully excavating remains and artifacts from holy Pueblo sites, and even presently occupied Pueblos without consent.
The Entrada was re-produced as a way of promoting Santa Fe business and tourism, where the focus shifted to a more civic celebration, and has become just one of the spectacles that comprised the week-long Santa Fe fiestas. In this iteration, The Entrada became a grand reenactment of the return of Don Diego de Vargas, complete with the mythical La Reigna who sits at de Vargas’ side, along with the mythical Cacique and Indian princess who had happily accepted conversion to Catholicism and subsequent conquest. To coincide with U.S. Independence, the Entrada was then celebrated on the Fourth of July. Much like the U.S. Civil War reenactments that celebrate confederate heritage, the Entrada blatantly celebrates the colonization of land and peoples and glorifies the military might of European invaders. Most recently, The Entrada was produced by Los Caballeros de Vargas, a non-profit Catholic ministry. In 2015 when The President of Los Caballeros Joe Mier was interviewed by a local newspaper, he described the Entrada as “a celebration,” stating that “It’s not [a celebration] that we conquered anyone. It’s a religious celebration. That should be the main focus.”
Pueblo activists first publicly protested the Entrada in 1980, the year marking the tricentennial of the Pueblo revolt. These protests were sparked by the All Indian Pueblo Council and the Eight Northern Pueblos council boycott of the Santa Fe Fiestas in 1977. In response to these boycotts, the Fiesta Council sent a letter to the Eight Northern asking that the Pueblo vendors vacate their space underneath the portal at the Palace of the Governors during Fiesta. The Palace of the Governors was constructed in the 17th century as Spain’s seat of government in occupied Tewa territory. The Palace of the Governors represented the stronghold of the crown here and today it serves as the New Mexico History Museum. In the 1800s after the Santa Fe railway was constructed, the economy shifted from one that had been primarily based on human trafficking to the booming tourist economy that exists today. Native artisans and craftsmen began selling utilitarian and cultural goods such as pottery to visitors, utilizing the railway outside the Palace of the Governors. Selling arts and crafts here became a common practice for Native peoples as they slowly were forced into the wage economy by Mexican and U.S. policies that disconnected them from land-based subsistence economies. The presence of the Native artisans in this space became a sort of public spectacle and the city quickly capitalized on their presence. The Palace of the Governors soon became a place where settlers and tourists could meet “real-life Indians” and purchase “authentic” Indian art, foregrounding the burgeoning Native art scene that is still the primary mode of income for Santa Fe’s economy today. Nonetheless it seems, the Fiesta Council only wanted Pueblo people to participate in Fiestas if they were willing to play the roles prescribed by the colonial script, celebrating their subjugation and humiliation at the hands of the conquistadors, and capitalists. Pueblo leaders were forced to concede to the Santa Fe city council in the early 1980s because of the way they had threatened the livelihoods of Pueblo artisans—and following this, public opposition to The Entrada went dormant. In the early 2000s, more Native and non-Native activists began to publicly protest again making T-shirts with messages about the truth behind The Entrada and making small public appearances. But protests of the Entrada would not get media attention again for about another decade.
In 2015, another coalition of Native and non-Native activists organized a silent protest in which they taped their mouths shut to symbolize the silencing of Indigenous peoples, and held placards with facts about the violent founding of Santa Fe to combat the revisionist narrative presented in the reenactment. Protesters experienced verbal and physical harassment from Entrada attendees. The leaders of the protest were a couple named Jessica Ava Montoya and Anastacio Trujillo, who had prior to this participated as de Vargas and La Princessa in the Entrada themselves. Jessica and Anastacio were not Indigenous, but after seeing firsthand the anti-Indian sentiment held by Los Caballeros de Vargas, they were prompted to confront the organization from inside out. Where the Entrada concludes is located at the present center of the Santa Fe plaza, marked by an obelisk that reads “To the heroes who have fallen in various battles with savage Indians in the territory of New Mexico.” The word “savage” has since been chiseled out by an unknown person, but remains an object of political tension and controversy. It is no coincidence that the Entrada concluded in this precise space, where Native peoples are literally physically represented as docile artists and savages. It is precisely this dual perception of Pueblo people that the Entrada was based on.
Montoya and Trujillo were subsequently forced out of Los Caballeros de Vargas and proceeded to organize the 2015 protest that would catch the attention of the Red Nation, a revolutionary Native liberation organization based in New Mexico. Soon after this, efforts to link up with Montoya, Trujillo and other Santa Fe organizers began. By the summer of 2016, the Santa Fe fiestas were a hot topic, as the city prepared for unprecedented demonstrations. At this time the Red Nation had only been in existence for about two and a half years, but had already acquired a significant reputation for their radical presence in New Mexico, receiving national attention for their effective campaigns. The Red Nation had primarily been active in bordertowns such as Albuquerque and Gallup, focusing on anti-Indian violence in urban settings and was comprised primarily of Diné organizers. Young Pueblo members of the Red Nation, such as myself, saw this as an opportunity to revive the movement for Pueblo liberation and take the work of the Red Nation back to rural and reservation settings. Of course these efforts were never seen as separate from the long histories of Pueblo resistance in the area, but simply a continuation of them. It would soon become apparent just how little had changed from century to century when the largest protests the city had seen in generations took place in 2016 and 2017 during the Entrada. When the Red Nation linked up with Montoya, Trujillo and other activists in 2016, about 150 people joined the protest against the Entrada. Young Native women led a march around the plaza which arrived at the intersection of Palace and Lincoln streets, where the Entrada Procession passed through. The disruption of the event was successful, but the protesters experienced intensified physical and verbal harassment from bystanders, all while the police watched and assisted in the brutalization of protesters.
The following year the protests intensified significantly. The Entrada coalition led by the Red Nation had grown and the messaging behind had become much more than abolishing the racist reenactment. The coalition had now put forth a list of demands attached to the abolishment of the Entrada and called attention to the ongoing resource extraction in and around Sacred sites in New Mexico, and the recent desecration of sacred ruins claimed by the Tesuque Pueblo just a block away from where the Entrada took place. When reconstructing the Santa Fe convention center, a vast network of old Pueblo ruins had been uncovered beneath it — this site claimed by the Tesuque Pueblo who engaged in a series of legal battles to claim and protect the area. Despite this, the city proceeded to reconstruct the convention center over the ruins, where in any other place it might have been protected, as the famous Chaco Canyon or bandelier national monument have been. The convention center is where the winter Indian Market art show is hosted, in addition to various other art and cultural events. The Santa Fe convention center is a physical representation of how Pueblo history has been continuously, violently erased and covered up in favor of an alternative story that celebrates the dehistoricized art and aesthetics of Pueblo people but never Pueblo people themselves. It is for reasons like this that the protesting of the Entrada was never just about symbolic representation or misrepresentation, but about the real material consequences of revisionist history.
These material impacts would manifest with the full burden of historical brutality behind them during the September 8, 2017 protest of the Entrada. Us protesters arrived early in the day to avoid any blockades, but were still corralled into a “free speech zone” far away from where the reenactment was taking place. The Entrada had been rescheduled at the last minute to happen two hours ahead of time in order to avoid protests. On at least six of the rooftops in the Santa Fe Plaza, including on top of the Palace of the Governors and St. Francis auditorium, were visible snipers in full camouflage with their barrels aimed directly into the crowd of about 250 to 300 people, which included elders and children protesters. Even before the reenactment, at least two people had been arrested, while a prisoner transport van and portable booking station were set up nearby. The police
had every intention of making arrests regardless of what happened that day. In fact, they had summoned the backup of four additional New Mexico police departments and the state police for this specific day. Upon the crowd marching out of the free speech zone for about two blocks, the police quickly blocked us and proceeded to act physically violent.
I was among the eight people arrested that day for our participation in the protests. One Native man who was arrested wasn’t even a part of the protest — he was simply passing through the city when the police profiled him, stating that his red bandana indicated that he was a gang affiliate. A spectacle was made of my arrest, for better or worse, the visual of a Pueblo woman getting violently arrested in traditional clothing did no justice to the city and fiesta council, who insisted that they were not celebrating violence and conquest. Not only was the visual disturbing to many, but the police also made an explicit effort to parade me through the street to the booking station. Ironically, this took place right at the intersection of Palace and Lincoln streets, where the gallows that had brought many Pueblo revolutionaries to their demise once stood. Witnesses said the police created this spectacle on purpose, with officers still bearing the de Vargas family seal on their uniforms. Red Nation member Demitrius Johnson said he couldn’t help but think of the way Diné people were purposely humiliated when they were marched through major cities on the Navajo long walk to the Bosque redondo concentration camp. The intersection of Palace and Lincoln streets has long served as a space where corporal punishment was made into a spectacle to serve as a warning to Indigenous resistance.
After spending the longest time in jail of all the arrestees, I was released to find that this incident had gained national attention. It was then when I intuitively knew that the Entrada would not live to see another year. I was correct. The Entrada had finally been abolished! This was a long fought victory that has been in the making for generations. Yet this was just the beginning of a much bigger conversation about colonizer celebrations, such as the clash between neo-Nazis and protesters in Charlottesville North Carolina just weeks before the Entrada protest. In New Mexico, this would force us to reckon with revisionist historical narratives and to confront the sheer lack of respect for Native life, reinvigorating the sleeping giant that is the Pueblo liberation movement.
Though this particular area continues to be the center in which Pueblo life is up for negotiation, an uneasy feeling still surrounds the space where the events of the 2017 Entrada occured. In December 2019, Red Nation members were immediately subjected to profiling by police at the St. Francis auditorium/New Mexico Museum of Art, where they were on site for a public comment hearing on the fate of our drinking water in New Mexico. We came to protest the siphoning of our resources and listened to the case that was made for recycling Water used in fracking (oil extraction), to be used as drinking water known as “produced water.” As people angrily resisted the idea of letting unknown toxins into the drinking water supply, murals depicting the forced Catholicising of Pueblo people overlooked the audience in a room that eerily resembled a church. Just right outside this building, was where I was loaded into a prison transport van on the day of my arrest. The visual representations that surround us when we are having to justify and debate our humanity created the most meta-, jarring experience. “Same shit, different century” a comrade of mine says.
Since the last entrada The Red Nation has organized several other actions on and around the Santa Fe plaza, including a first-of-its-kind: a march for Pueblo liberation that took place during the Indian market weekend, a world famous Native art show that generates up to 20% of Santa Fe’s income alone within one weekend. Visibly reclaiming the land and the sacred sites upon it was the goal of this march. We visited these sites of both cultural significance and violence, and sought to educate attendees about Santa Fe’s colonial past and the history of O gah Po’ geh before that. We consider all of these actions to be victories because for the first time in generations we can actually say that there is an active Pueblo liberation movement. Out of this came the Pueblo/a/x feminist caucus which put forth a first-of-its-kind manifesto, calling for the compleate decolonization and demilitarization of Pueblo lands, with Indigenous feminist praxis as its guiding priniciple. The purpose of the Pueblo/a/x Caucus is to create a movement that specifically addresses the distinct ways heteropatriarchy, colonialism, individualism, capitalism, racism, ableism, and weaponized religion have manifested in Pueblo communities. We do this through organizing that includes historical research and analysis, community education, and mobilizing direct action and advocacy. The visibility of these revived peoples’ movements make clear that Tewa people will reclaim these spaces of colonial violence, and that long after Santa Fe is gone O gah Po’geh Owingeh will still be here. ■