SANTA FE, N.M. — Native Americans leaders from pueblo tribes across New Mexico are taking their grievances about an annual conquistador pageant in Santa Fe directly to the mayor and Roman Catholic officials, city officials announced Monday.
Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales said he has accepted an invitation to meet with the All Pueblo Council of Governors that represents 19 pueblo tribes in New Mexico and one in Texas to discuss the public tribute to Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas. Santa Fe’s Roman Catholic archbishop, John Wester, also has accepted an invitation to the meeting.
De Vargas led the 1692 return to Santa Fe of colonists who were driven out by a Native American revolt in 1680.
The costumed reenactment of de Vargas’ arrival portrays a peaceful reconciliation with small, scattered pueblo tribes in shared reverence for a wood-carved Virgin Mary, an account disputed by an official state historian.
Tribal leaders say the pageant on Santa Fe’s downtown plaza obscures cruelties inflicted on Native Americans by de Vargas. In September, the reenactment was met with protests and a heavy police presence, with eight people were arrested on charges ranging from trespassing to assault on a police officer.
“As Pueblo leaders, we must come to terms in addressing these issues or run the risk of that these matters escalate into a regrettable set of circumstances,” said pueblo governors in a written request for a meeting with city and church officials. The request described the “overreaction of law enforcement, with a full militaristic response to reopen the wounds that have taken many generations to heal.”
It was unclear when the meeting will take place.
On Monday, Santa Fe celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day with a series of Native American dance performances on the city’s downtown plaza. Last year Santa Fe began honoring Native Americans on the federal Columbus Day holiday.
To mark the occasion, Gonzales shared a stage on the Santa Fe plaza with several pueblo governors and the archbishop.
A procession of about 30 people walked to the plaza holding signs in favor of free speech, voicing disapproval of the police response to protests last month.
“We’re not going to stand for being marginalized,” said Christina Castro, a Santa Fe resident with family ties to Jemez and Taos pueblos, who helped organize the procession. “We’re also trying to take a more peaceful approach.”
From Florida to California, public statues and tributes to early Spanish conquerors are facing mounting criticism tied to the brutal treatment of American Indians centuries ago by Spanish soldiers and missionaries, with activists drawing ethical parallels to the national controversy over Confederate monuments.
Santa Fe’s mayor has ordered a comprehensive survey of the city’s historical monuments and cultural events that is overdue for publication.