A statue of Juan de Oñate is part of a collection known as La Jornada (The Journey) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Oñate statue has been removed from the site and placed in storage by the city. Photo: felixdaacat

Native Sun News Today: Statue of Conquistador taken down

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico – A controversial statue of Juan de Oñate, a Spanish conquistador revered by some as the Father of New Mexico, but reviled by others for brutality against Native Americans, was removed this week and placed in storage on orders of Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.

The removal by city officials followed several days of protests at the site of the statue which ended in the shooting of one protestor who is in the hospital in critical condition. The protestor, Tim Williams, 39, is described as a local artist. Media reports said he went to the aid of a woman who had been injured when another bystander later identified as Steven Ray Baca, 31, shot him. Williams and Baca had exchanged blows before the shooting, according to witnesses and Baca was said to be attempting to protect the statue. Tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets were reportedly present to quell the disturbance, but the source of these is not clear.

The protest began peacefully with a prayer and speeches at a park across from the museum, according to media accounts. But when protestors walked across the street and tried to remove the statue with a chain and an axe members of a self-described vigilante militia group called The New Mexico Civil Guard carrying rifles moved to protect the statue as did other bystanders. It is not clear whether Baca is a member of the militia group. An investigation of the incident is underway and charges are pending.

The bronze statue by Reynaldo Rivera has been controversial since its establishment in front of the Albuquerque Museum in 2004. Oñate, is known for his brutal treatment of Native Americans but revered by others as “the father of New Mexico,” who brought Christianity, irrigation and new types of animals to New Mexico. He arrived in New Mexico from Spain in 1598 to colonize the territory.

But, he is also known for his brutal treatment of Native Americans. including ordering that males of the Acoma pueblo have their right feet cut off after a battle in which Oñate’s nephew was killed.

The statue entitled La Jornada (day’s journey) showed Oñate leading a group of settlers including soldiers, women, children and animals. Most of the figures still stand in front of the Albuquerque Museum downtown. Only the Oñate statue was removed from its post by city officials and carted off in a truck.

Residents milled around the statue as it lay on the ground the day after it was removed but before it was taken to storage. Some residents said that the statue should remain because it is part of the history of New Mexico. Others said it is an affront to Native Americans and should come down.

“Good or bad it’s still history. I hate to see that statue coming down,” said Alejandro Chavez of Socorro south of Albuquerque. “I wanted to see it for the last time but it’s already down.”

Others who asked not to be identified said the statue offends Native Americans and should be down.

Mayor Keller said that the statue will stay in storage until a decision is made by city and county officials about what to do with it.

He issued a statement saying the city would remove the statue “until the appropriate civic institutions can determine the next steps in order to contain the public safety risk.”

”The shooting tonight was a tragic, outrageous and unacceptable act of violence and it has no place in our city,” Keller said in a statement. “Our diverse community will not be deterred by acts meant to divide or silence us. Our hearts go out to the victim, his family and witnesses whose lives were needlessly threatened tonight.”

The protest of the statue comes in the wake of the removal of statues throughout the country of men representing the Confederacy or seen as supporters of slaves or segregation in America. Statues of Christopher Columbus also have been toppled.

Another statue of Oñate was removed from its pedestal in Alcalde, a town north of Santa Fe, on the same day as the statue was removed in Albuquerque.

Elena Ortiz (Ohkay Owingeh), who heads The Red Nation in Santa Fe, has been active in the movement to remove statues of conquistadors. She said in an email that she attended the celebration of the removal of a statue of Oñate in Alcalde so was not present in Albuquerque when the Oñate statue was removed.

“Oñate was a murderer and rapist,” Ortiz said by email. “During an attack on Acoma Pueblo in 1599, his nephew Juan de Zaldivar was killed. The killing took place after the Spanish soldiers attacked Acoma Pueblo and raped an Acoma woman. Oñate retaliated by attacking the pueblo and destroying it. 1000 Acoma people died. And then he ordered that his soldiers cut off the right foot of all of the young men over the age of 25.”


Support Native media!

Read the rest of the story on Native Sun News Today: Statue of Conquistador taken down

Contact Kate Saltzstein at Katherine Saltzstein, salty223@aol.com

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today

Join the Conversation