Indianz.Com > News > Pueblo leaders condemn shooting and call for consultation on colonial monument
The Red Nation: Jen Marley statement on fascist attack on September 28, 2023
Pueblo leaders condemn shooting and call for consultation on colonial monument
Friday, October 6, 2023

Leaders of New Mexico’s Pueblo tribes are speaking out following the near deadly shooting of a Native activist on their homelands.

In a news release on Friday, the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) condemned the “violence” that took place on Pueblo territory in the northern part of the state last week. Jacob Johns, an activist and artist, was shot in the chest amid opposition to a monument of Juan de Oñate, a colonial figure known for his brutal treatment of Native people.

“It’s unfortunate that during a prayer filled ceremony that an individual was seriously harmed over this issue,” said APCG Vice Chairman Jerome Lucero, the former governor of the Pueblo of Zia. “This shows that the historical trauma and pain inflicted on our Pueblo people by Oñate is still here.”

Pueblo leaders further asserted that officials in Rio Arriba County made the decision to resurrect the Oñate monument without public input — and without tribal consultation. They tied the shooting of Johns, as well as ongoing threats to the safety of Native activists, to the controversial actions of the commission.

“As tribal leaders, we are very concerned about the possibility of continued violence against Native people who vehemently disagree with the commission’s decision,” Lucero said in the release.

All Pueblo Council of Governors News Release [PDF]

For one tribe in particular, the monument serves as a reminder of the painful past. In 1599, Oñate ordered a massacre at the Pueblo of Acoma, leading to the deaths of 800 women, children and men, which “decimated” the community, the news release stated.

“Acoma people are resilient,” said Governor Randall Vicente, the tribe’s leader. “We survived some of the most violent acts committed at the hands of a historic figure who should not be idolized.”

Vicente concurred with Lucero in connecting the Oñate monument to a revival of negative feelings against Native people. But he also questioned whether reinstalling the statue brings value to other residents of the state.

“I am afraid the decision to put up the Oñate statue will only polarize our communities,” said Vicente. “We have come a long way since the battle at Acoma. Today, we need to stop seeing each other as enemies. We need to talk and listen to one another and work together for the safety and common good of all.”

APCG Chairman Mark Mitchell, the former governor of the Pueblo of Tesuque, added his voice to the condemnations of the violent shooting on September 28. Johns has been hospitalized since the incident, with his family saying he is in critical but stable condition.

“Pueblo Governors uphold the core values of love and respect,” Mitchell said. “Violence threatens the core values of peace and our collective well-being. We condemn all actions promoting increased violence.”

Pueblo of Acoma
A view of the Pueblo of Acoma, the site of a 1599 massacre ordered by Juan de Oñate, a colonial governor in what is known today as New Mexico. Photo: Nathan Hale Photography

But with the fate of the Oñate statue still in question, Mitchell said Pueblo tribes should be included in any decisions going forward. So far officials in Rio Arriba have not stated what will happen to the monument in light of the near fatal shooting.

“Unequivocally, the health and safety of Native people is on the hearts and minds of Pueblo Governors as we seek justice and reconciliation,” Mitchell said. “Pueblos should always have a seat at the table to be consulted about these decisions.”

The Oñate monument was installed in 1994 on public property next to Ohkay Owingeh, one of the Pueblo tribes that belongs to the APCG. In June 2020, the county removed the statue amid Native-led protests but local officials never explained what would happen to the bronze figure.

It turns out Oñate didn’t go very far. Last month, the county announced that the monument would be reinstalled on public property in Española, a border town carved out of the homelands of Ohkay Owingeh and the neighboring Pueblo of Santa Clara.

Despite negative reactions from Native activists, voiced primarily by The Red Nation, many of whose organizers hail from Pueblo tribes, county officials remained firm in their decision to revive the statue of Oñate. But on the eve of the public event, they decided to postpone “until further notice” — leaving open the door for another situation of the kind that led to last week’s shooting.

To avoid potentially dangerous scenarios, the Pueblo governors said they want to work with county officials, citing past discussions that led to the cancellation of The Entrada, a controversial event that depicted the Spanish government’s efforts to colonize Native peoples in present-day New Mexico. The Red Nation was a leader in efforts to address what activists had called a celebration of genocide.

But Rio Arriba officials have remained largely silent about the fate of the Oñate monument. The county so far has only publicly said it was “disappointed, saddened, and concerned with the tragic event” that occurred on public property in a news release that otherwise did not mention the Native victim of the shooting.

County records show that the commission planned to host a public meeting on the afternoon of the derailed Oñate ceremony in Española. The commission meeting was instead rescheduled to Thursday — but in Tierra Amarilla, the regular location of such meetings, but one further from the places in Rio Arriba where most Native people live.

Tierra Amarilla is the county seat of Rio Arriba. It’s also the site of the detention center where Ryan David Martinez, the 23-year-old accused of shooting Johns, is being held.

Ryan Martinez
Ryan Martinez, age 23, is seen in a “Make America Great Again” hat in an arrest photo released by the New Mexico State Police on September 29, 2023.

Martinez was arrested after he fled the scene — by police officers from the Pueblo of Pojoaque. He has been charged one count of attempted murder in the first degree and one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, both of which are felony charges.

Since his arrest, Martinez has made two court appearances but has not entered a plea to the charges. His most recent appearance was cut short after the case was abruptly transferred from magistrate court in Española to district court in Tierra Amarilla.

The change of venue means Martinez’s next appearance on October 13 — for a “Dangerousness and Preliminary Hearing” — will be accessible mainly to those able to travel to Tierra Amarilla, which is more than an hour north of Española. Most criminal proceedings in district court are required to be held in-person, unlike the magistrate court, which allowed for online participation.

The criminal case is State of New Mexico v. Ryan Martinez, D-117-PD-202300036. It has been assigned to District Court Judge Jason Lidyard, who is based at the county courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, often abbreviated as “TA.” Absent a court order, the October 13 hearing is slated to be in-person only. Lidyard’s calendar for Martinez’s appearance currently has a note stating: “In person hearing in TA, custody in TA.”

According to the New Mexico State Police, Martinez makes his home in Sandia Park, a small community near the Sandia Mountains in the central part of the state. He would have had to drive more than 90 minutes from his home to get to Española for the Oñate event, which he had posted about on social media in the days prior to the postponed installation.

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