Indigenous Peoples Day celebrates heritage, acknowledges pain
Many voices rang out across the Santa Fe Plaza on Monday, but each was united under one theme: reconciliation.
Tribal and city officials gathered during the opening ceremony for Indigenous Peoples Day events in a year that has seen citywide discussion — and occasional division — on just how to commemorate the past.
While Columbus Day is celebrated across the nation, it’s Indigenous Peoples Day in Santa Fe, perhaps this year more than most: A month after the retirement of the controversial Entrada ceremony, tribal leaders and city officials at a celebration in the Plaza pointed to recent events as a testimony to the strength of the community and the beginning of reconciliation.
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber opened the ceremony by praising how the city has come together in a time of national tension.
“Building on our past, we are poised for a new beginning,” he said to the crowd of about 50.
In this beginning, words matter, Webber said. Calling the holiday Indigenous Peoples Day and focusing on the forced relocation and discrimination of Native populations, instead of the glorification of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, helps reshape the dialogue about history and what it means today, he added.
“It’s a ceremony that bears repeating, and it’s a statement of shared values,” he said.
The occasion also made note of the differences in perspectives. Edward Torres, who chairs the All Pueblo Council of Governors, addressed what Columbus’ arrival to the Americas meant to indigenous populations.
“It is a time to recognize the pain and suffering of people who resided on these lands long before Europeans,” he said.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begayetalked about the need to continue ancestral traditions despite the attempts throughout history to diminish them, including bans on indigenous languages or disregard for tribal borders. Most of all, he emphasized the pride of heritage.
“It is differences that make us who we are as a nation,” he said. “Honoring and respecting each other makes us great.”
Even with the positive messages of unification and remembrance, Valerie Rangel of Santa Fe said the 1½-hour ceremony didn’t seem as compelling as in years past. “The statement was very subdued,” she said. “Reconciliation is a complicated thing.”
Rangel, part Navajo and Apache, said that while history was acknowledged, the present — including a racial divide and discrimination — is still to be addressed.
“It’s a complicated history that we don’t understand,” Rangel said. “I still feel racial discrimination as Navajo.”
Regis Pecos, a key player in the talks that led to the retirement of the Entrada, said he saw the presence of different leaders — including Archdiocese of Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester, who didn’t speak, and Caballeros de Vargas President Thomas Baca-Gutierrez — as evidence times were changing.
“We recognize and honor the indigenous population and the hardships they’ve endured,” Baca-Gutierrez said. “We must never forget the ties that bond us together.”
Seeing leaders from different backgrounds stand together, Pecos said, is a very important beginning.
“It’s only through this process that generations of our time and generations of the future can be blessed in reconciliation,” he said.
After a closing prayer, the day turned away from old scars to the vibrance of today’s indigenous culture. Drums and dances gathered crowds twice the size of the speakers’s audience.
As tourists zealously captured images of performers and asked questions about the realities of tribal life as they bought an Indigenous Peoples Day T-shirt, those running the booth welcomed the curiosity.
“It lets people know we’re still here,” said Caren Gala, director of the Santa Fe Indian Center. “It’s a celebration of culture. It’s a day that’s been long overdue.”
As tourists and locals join together to witness drum circles or traditional dances, Gala said, the celebration offers the ability for pueblo members and other tribes to share their culture with those who may not see the result of the history the leaders spoke about.
Audrey Martinez-Coburn, a volunteer at the booth, said she welcomed questions and the opportunity to talk about beliefs and traditions. In this way, she said she’s able to redefine people’s understanding of the past.
“We just can’t continue to keep silent,” she said. “Enough is enough. History needs to be told how it really happened, not just as a conqueror’s world.”