Not just Confederate statues: Indigenous activists want conquistadors, missionaries removed – News – The Edinburg Review


As Confederate statues and symbols are removed nationwide, activists are calling for monuments to those who contributed to the genocide of Indigenous people to be toppled as well.

“It is an act of violence to even have the statues in our homelands,” said Elena Ortiz, chair of the Santa Fe Freedom Council of The Red Nation, a social justice organization. “It’s not just the statue, but it’s what it represented: the celebration of our genocide.”

“[The conquistadors] brought with them not only these weapons of mass destruction, but also the imposition of the Catholic Church and the imposition of a patriarchal government on peaceful matrilineal societies … those colonially imposed systems exist to this day, and have impacted generations.”

In Los Angeles and San Francisco, statues of Junípero Serra were toppled by protesters. In New Mexico, Juan de Oñate statues are now in storage. Diego de Vargas was carried out of Santa Fe with a crane. And in Florida, Juan Ponce de Leóns were covered in spray paint and rotten eggs. 

These protests and removals haven’t come without controversy, though. The U.S. Spanish Embassy weighed in, saying that defending the Spanish legacy is a priority — and that educational efforts will continue for “the reality of our shared history to be better known and understood.” 

For activists like Ortiz, tearing down these statues is a step in the right direction of being honest about history.

“I believe that history is part of a fabric that communities are built on…It’s not about erasing history, it’s about removing figures that are inappropriate to be worshiped.”

Ortiz says the country has been “simmering” with institutionalized, systemic racism for a long time. 

“Without liberation for all, there’s no liberation for any of us,” she said. “Every movement from Black Lives Matter, to defund the police, to tearing down these statues shows a deep, deep dissatisfaction with the state of the world right now.”

Here’s a closer look at these statues:

Junípero Serra

Junípero Serra (1713-1784) was a Spanish Franciscan priest and missionarycredited with bringing Catholicism to present-day California when it was a Spanish colony. In 2015, he gained sainthood when he was canonized by Pope Francis.

Why is Serra protested?

Native tribes in Alta California, including the Chumash and Tongva, were often forced to convert nearly at gunpoint, according to PBS. They could be beaten, imprisoned, or hunted down for disobedience. Serra in particular is known for enslaving Native American people.

Many who converted only survived mission life for about 10 years. In addition, mostly because of disease, the Spanish were responsible for the immense population decline of Indigenous people in the region — from around 300,000 in 1769 to approximately 200,000 by 1821.

Where are (or were) Serra’s statues?

There have been statues of Serra throughout California, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. Last weekend, activists toppled those statues.

Since then, further controversy has erupted in local meetings as well as on social media between those who see Serra as a saint and the toppling as disrespectful, and those who see him as part of genocide and the statues’ removal as overdue.

“[Serra] was a man ahead of his times who made great sacrifices to defend and serve the indigenous population and work against an oppression that extends far beyond the mission era,” The California Catholic Conference of Bishops said in a statement. “If that is not enough to legitimate a public statue in the state that he did so much to create, then virtually every historical figure from our nation’s past will have to be removed for their failings measured in the light of today’s standards.”

Juan de Oñate

Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate (around 1550-1630) led the effort to colonize present-day New Mexico for Spain. He was the state’s first colonial governor.

Why is Oñate protested?

While many New Mexicans trace their family roots or legacy back to Oñate and celebrate his history, the conquistador was also described as a despot who inflicted violence on Indigenous populations — particularly the Pueblo people.

In the Acoma Massacre of 1599, 800 to 1,000 Acoma Pueblo people were killed. Among survivors, adult men were sentenced to foot amputation and 20 years of servitude, according to PBS. Children were sent to Mexican missionaries, but some scholars believe that they were later sold into slave markets.

Other records say that Oñate and his men raped Pueblo women, and stole from or enslaved tribal communities. Years later, Oñate was found guilty of some of these crimes and banished from New Mexico.

Where are (or were) Oñate’s statues?

The Red Nation pushed for the removal of Oñate statues in Alcalde and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

According to Ortiz, the Alcalde statue sat on traditional Ohkay Owingeh land. The Red Nation planned a demonstration for June 15, but a county official ordered the Oñate to come down hours before, in order to protect it from protest damage. The removal resulted in a mix of celebration and controversy, as it is unclear if it’s a permanent change.

That same day, during a demonstration at the Albuquerque statue, a counter-protester was arrested and charged with battery after a protester was shot. The protester was in critical but stable condition. The city later announced it would take the statue down.

Ortiz found out about the Albuquerque shooting shortly after celebrating the removal of the Alcalde statue.

“It really tempered our celebration,” she said. “It made us realize how serious all this is, and the lengths that people will go to protect property over lives.” 

“It’s difficult when people are more upset over the destruction of a statue than they were over the fact that this man destroyed Acoma Pueblo.”

Another Oñate statue sits in Texas outside the El Paso International Airport. It was vandalized the week of June 12 with paint and graffiti — including, “Your god is not my god” in Spanish — but it still stands. 

Diego de Vargas

Who was Diego de Vargas?

Diego José de Vargas Zapata Luján Ponce de León y Contreras (1643-1704), often called “Don Diego de Vargas,” was a Spanish conquistador and Governor of New Spain territory in present-day New Mexico and Arizona.

He is known for “reclaiming” Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1692 — an entrance, or “Entrada,” that has historically been re-enacted and celebrated each year during the city’s annual Fiesta de Santa Fe.

Why is de Vargas protested?

In 1692, after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 — a rebellion in which Pueblo and Apache people successfully overthrew and chased out Spanish rule — de Vargas led a Spanish reconquest of the territory, which many referred to as “bloodless.” 

The calm did not last. Just a year later, in 1693, de Vargas returned to Santa Fe with more soldiers and settlers, fighting his way into the city. Once he was able to claim the capital, he ordered the killings of about 70 Pueblo men, and sent women and children to be servants for the colonists.

Similar violence occurred in surrounding Pueblos. Native communities were often plundered for food or supplies, and de Vargas’ authorization of additional settlements to accommodate new colonists displaced Pueblo people.

Where are (or were) de Vargas’ statues?

Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber ordered the statue of de Vargas to be removed June 18, which it was — by crane.

Webber’s proclamation of emergency called for the removal of three statues in city property, including de Vargas — which is currently in “safekeeping.”

“It is time to stop celebrating violence and it is time to celebrate the reconciliation in our future,” Webber wrote. “We have arrived at a moment of moral truth. Rather than shrink in fear from this moment we need to embrace it…It is long overdue. We need to move past the monuments and turn a page in our history.” 

The state’s Indian Affairs Department issued a joint response statement with tribal leaders applauding Webber’s order.

“People of good conscience are coming together to change how we think about powerful symbols like statues. It is no longer enough to present just one version of history. We owe it to all those who lived it to portray the full complexity of our shared past,” wrote Lynn Trujillo, Secretary of the Indian Affairs Department. “These statues, which celebrated the killing of Native peoples, have excluded New Mexico’s tribes from this shared history. We look forward to supporting all those who want to work toward a more complete retelling of our history.”

However, with the removal came debate. From the way the action was ordered by the mayor alone, to the fact that, like Oñate, many Santa Feans trace their roots to de Vargas and grow up celebrating him in autumn Fiesta de Santa Fe traditions.

Juan Ponce de León

Juan Ponce de León (around 1460-1521) was a Spanish explorer who founded the first European settlement in Puerto Rico and was governor of the Spanish colony of San Juan. He was the first European to reach Florida in 1513.

Why is Ponce de León protested?

Ponce de León’s arrival resulted in Native slavery, disease, and death, according to Indian County Today. As governor, he enslaved Indigenous people and though unable to defeat Florida’s now-extinct Calusa tribe, his attempts to colonize Florida alerted other Spaniards about the land.

“He was the opening of the door, a microcosm of the invasion of the Americas by the Europeans,” Dr. Jerald Milanich, anthropologist and archaeologist who specializes in Native American culture in Florida, told Indian Country Today. “He was the beginning of the end for hundreds of thousands of Indians.”

Where are (or were) Ponce de León’s statues? 

Statues of Ponce de León can be seen in Florida and Puerto Rico — including the cities of San Juan, St. Augustine and Miami. 

On June 10, the Miami statue was spray-painted with the words “George Floyd” and “BLM.” Last week, Ponce de León statue in Melbourne Beach was spraypainted with the words “Ais Murder,” referring to the Ais tribe of the region. The base of the Ponce de León statue in St. Augustine was hit with rotten eggs June 18.

No word yet on whether these statues will be taken down.

Contributing: The Associated Press



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