Brokering peace over uneasy history
As he walked toward Rosario Chapel in the dark, early morning hours of Sept. 7, Regis Pecos didn’t know what to expect.
Yes, the former Cochiti Pueblo governor with a masterful gift for diplomacy had successfully negotiated a historic agreement to retire the Entrada, a highly divisive re-enactment of Spanish conquistadors retaking Santa Fe from the Natives in 1692.
But it wasn’t an easy feat.
The private discussions took months, and not everyone was pleased with the outcome. While American Indians saw it as racist, revisionist history, longtime Santa Feans considered the century-old Entrada, a pageant held during Fiesta de Santa Fe celebrations, a part of their culture and traditions.
Which is why Pecos was a little apprehensive as he made his way to Rosario Chapel for a sunrise Mass that marks the official start of Fiesta.
“The only flickering light that I saw walking from the gates was the side door to the chapel,” Pecos recalled.
“It was kind of symbolic of where we were at the beginning of this process. I got no road map. I got no directions other than to be asked to be the facilitator and to be the convener. No one said, ‘This is how we want you to do it.’ It was just something that I needed to figure out myself, and my [Catholic] faith was that light. That was what I used to try to move people toward.”
It worked — and for that, Pecos has been selected as one of The New Mexican’s 10 Who Made a Difference for 2018. The award recognizes people in Santa Fe and across Northern New Mexico who dedicate their time to volunteer service and making their communities stronger.
“For me, there was no doubt that Regis deserved to be one of the 10 Who Made a Difference this year because of his peacemaking efforts and his success in dealing with conflict, the really painful conflict over the Entrada at fiestas,” said Lucy Moore, who nominated Pecos to receive the award.
Moore, a mediator, said she followed the “ups and downs” of the Entrada over the years “and with increasing concern that we were headed for some really ugly times if there wasn’t some effort to mediate between the sides and bring some peaceful resolution to the situation.”
“It actually seemed pretty impossible to me,” she said. “The sides were so dug in.”
When Moore found out Pecos had been asked by the All Pueblo Council of Governors to facilitate the discussions, she said she “suddenly saw hope.”
“He knows that it really has to be about helping people find their common values,” she said. “He believes — and I’ve seen him do this work — if you help people reach down inside themselves and find their core values, they will find that they share those values with others, and that’s a deep, deep place from which to find resolution and healing.”
The Princeton University-educated Pecos, who has earned a reputation as one of the state’s most enduring power brokers, said he is driven by a “really deep love and respect and compassion for others” as a result of his life experiences, including what he has called the “devastation” caused to tribal lands by the construction of Cochiti Lake.
Pecos, a devout Catholic, said he is also driven by a deep sense of faith and that prayer always guides what he does.
“It’s the collective contribution upon all those who have passed that I rely on in everything that I do, and it’s how I honor them,” he said.
During negotiations over the fate of the Entrada, Pecos said, he insisted that people at the table, including representatives from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and the Caballeros de Vargas, a religious organization that used to put on the Entrada, start by sharing their core values. He also insisted on starting every dialogue with a prayer “to be mindful that what we do is really way beyond us and that we have to consider those of the past, those of the present and certainly those of the future.”
“In that sharing, we had more in common than we had differences; that’s what’s so miraculous about something so simple, yet so powerful,” he said. “When we’re able to engage others on that same foundation, on the same principles, on the same values, I guess it goes to the point of the teachings [from his ancestors] that when we use our core values to guide our decisions, we’ll never make the wrong decision. It’s so powerful, and I believe in it so dearly.”
While Pecos was apprehensive walking toward Rosario Chapel that morning in September, he said it all disappeared when he saw people smiling, shaking hands and embracing — an image he’ll never forget.
“I was deeply emotional in a very quiet way to see how beautiful this was and very thankful of being blessed with having a part in bringing people together, deepening an understanding and heightening our appreciation that we could reach a point of genuine reconciliation and forgiveness,” he said.