Indianz.Com > News > Jennifer Denetdale: Four centuries of state sanctioned terror against Indigenous peoples
Jennifer Denetdale
Dr. Jennifer Denetdale, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, is a professor in American Studies at the University of New Mexico and chair of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. Courtesy photo
Four centuries of state sanctioned terror against Indigenous peoples.
Tuesday, October 3, 2023

I spent the weekend in sorrow and listening for updates on Jacob Johns (Hopi and Akimel O’odham), who was shot in the chest by Ryan Martinez in Espanola, New Mexico, on Thursday, September 28, 2023. Martinez was wearing a red hat emblazoned with MAGA.

Moments before Martinez pulled the gun out of his waistband, he was seen exchanging remarks with Hispanos who supported the reinstallation of the Juan de Oñate statue, which had been removed from the public eye amid public protests demanding its removal. One Hispano was heard to say “that it’s been this way for four hundred years.” Four hundred years of state sanctioned terror against Indigenous peoples.

For Indigenous people, Oñate represents the terror of the Spaniards who systematically violated our ancestors in the seventeenth century. He is the symbol of systemic violence, anti-Indianism, that Indigenous people endure into the present.

Johns was among the Indigenous people who had gathered to protest the planned reinstallation of the statue. Upon learning that Rio Arriba County commissioners decided to postpone the event because they recognized the possibilities of violence, organizers of the protest turned the gathering into a celebration.

The Red Nation: RACIST ATTACK ON INDIGENOUS PEOPLE – Oñate shooting 9/28/23

Women, children, and elders were present to show their concerns and then to offer each other community. Community members do not bring their relatives to events if they think danger is lurking — but as recent events have shown, when Oñate is involved, danger is always lurking. We should not fear for our lives when we speak out against injustices, racism and hate.

The shooting of Jacob Johns is yet another act of terror that Indigenous people who live in New Mexico must navigate every day. It is not enough to historically dispossess us of our lands and render us aliens in our communities through laws and policies coming from colonial governments, like Rio Arriba County and other places that make Oñate a hero; Oñate’s statue is an affront, a deep insult, and its placement on Indigenous lands is to continually salt the wound, by declaring that history is of no consequence.

As we have witnessed and experienced, we are deeply traumatized by histories of unrelenting settler violence. On Thursday, just as our people were on June 15, 2020, when Scott Williams was shot multiple times by Steven Ray Baca. Baca was not held accountable and it’s no wonder that so many doubt the American justice system to do justice.

In the face of terror, we are supposed to live in continual fear because white supremacists threaten violence against our people, against people of color, and as current moments show us, they are not held accountable. It is the sign of our times that white supremacists and their followers are unabashed and will go to extremes to retake what they think is their country.

I mourn for Jacob Johns and pray for his recovery and thank him for his courage. In the face of such terror, we should be calling for our leaders to condemn this act of violence as a hate crime and call for justice for Jacob Johns and relief from acts of terror for our communities.

Dr. Denetdale (Diné) serves as chair of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.

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