Green Fire Times

OP-ED: Elena Ortiz / Native Rights

An opportunity for cultural reckoning and healing


Dozens of Native and non-Native allies gathered to protest and call for an end to the Santa Fe Fiesta’s Entrada reenactment.



Every year in September, the City of Santa Fe celebrates a lie—the ”peaceful reconquest” of the region by Spanish Conquistadors. The keynote event of this celebration takes place on the Plaza, a public space in the center of town. The Entrada is conquest theater, pure and simple, which features a non-existent Eurocentric ideal of Spanish identity seemingly devoid of 300 years of cultural exchange, intermarriage and immigration. Unbeknownst to many of its supporters, the Entrada was the creation of mostly Eastern-educated white men as an attempt to promote tourism.


Police forced protesters into a “Free Speech Zone” and arrested a handful of peaceful protesters.


For the past three years, Indigenous activists and our allies have gathered to remind the City of Santa Fe of its hypocrisy. This year, Los Caballeros De Vargas and the City attempted to thwart our right to gather peacefully. Using the racially charged event at Charlottesville as justification, supposedly fearing large-scale violent protest, they started the Entrada two hours earlier than scheduled. As we hurriedly gathered, they herded us to a corner of the Plaza, a “Free Speech Zone,” at the request of the ”permit holder.” When we resisted this violation of our First Amendment rights, they arrested seven of our allies. The police then violently arrested Red Nation organizer Jennifer Marley of San Ildefonso Pueblo for attempting to access another part of the Plaza. She was charged with a felony—battery on a peace officer—which was not what the lapel cameras of the officers recorded. All of the trumped-up charges against those arrested were eventually dismissed.


The City of Santa Fe, Los Caballeros de Vargas and the Fiesta Council attempted to silence us on that September day. We were not silent and will never be silent again. As the current administration in Washington, D.C. emboldens racists and supports the continued destruction of Turtle Island, we must rise in defense of our relatives.


Yes, monuments to racist white men are coming down, but the systems that they created are still firmly in place. The settler colonial state created by these men, acting on a ”divine mandate” from their death-and-destruction deity, is in direct opposition to our land-based cultures. The Doctrine of Discovery is still the law of this land. The real work to be done across Turtle Island must be to fight that edict and the systems it perpetrates.


Our sacred places are under attack. From Standing Rock to Chaco Canyon, Indigenous youth and women-led resistance movements echo the cries of our ancestors, who fought and died for liberation and the protection of all of the living beings who inhabit our Mother Earth. We don’t erect monuments to our ancestors because they are not dead. They live on in the rocks, the trees and the land itself. Our sacred places are not filled with marble statues, but living rivers and canyons.


The Water and Land Protectors are our true leaders on Turtle Island. They carry the mandate from our ancestors to stand in defense of our relatives. Our youth are rising up in reservation border towns, protecting the unsheltered and vulnerable. They are rising in defense of our LGBTQI relatives, who regularly experience horrific violence. They stand with immigrants, Black Lives Matter and other organizations fighting for liberation. They have weaponized their voices and their educations to serve their communities. They are the warriors carrying on the legacies of their ancestors.


These movements are not new to Indigenous communities. Nor is the racist violence that has recently made news across Turtle Island. Violent acts, from those that occurred in Charlottesville to the church shooting in Texas, and from Las Vegas to NYC, are more likely to make news when the victims are white.


Black Lives Matter has brought media attention to the many African-American victims of police brutality. They put their bodies on the line every time these acts of violence occur. In the South, monuments to those who supported enslavement of Africans are falling. But as those statues fall, white supremacist movements are rising. 


From the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, the Long Walk, to the Battle at Greasy Grass, the massacre at Wounded Knee, the American Indian Movement and the Trail of Broken Treaties, and so on, our people have suffered genocide, rape, enslavement and loss of sacred lands. We have fought those who see our lands as only useful for extraction and as byways for pipelines. We have seen cancer ravage our people from the byproducts of these industries. And we have lamented the loss of our relatives, human and other.


As Indigenous communities, we do not look to the past for guidance and support; we carry the past with us. As the waters flow down from the mountains and nourish the land, so our hearts and voices carry the songs and prayers of our ancestors. Our lives are rooted in the land where our ancestors emerged. The fight for Indigenous liberation is a fight for the survival of Mother Earth. We are the warriors of the here and the now—fighting with our words, our voices and our hearts. 


As we move into the new year, engagement remains critical. Battle lines have been drawn between those who choose the destructive settler colonial state and those who choose life. Water is life. The land is life. All who protect life are the warriors of the here and the now. Stay strong. The world needs us all. 




Elena Ortiz, an enrolled member of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, grew up in Santa Fe.