Decolonizing New Mexico

Remembering, Reimagining and Recovering

Charting A Path Forward - Recommendations & Strategies

As the Western Apache say of their homelands in Arizona, “wisdom sits in places,” and New Mexico is certainly no exception. But one cannot grow wise by simply looking at the surface of the buildings or in neighborhoods. I believe that wisdom can only be achieved by seeing past the layers, which in essence makes it deeply and profoundly contested and connected.

It means thinking about what connects one site to the next as part of a complex and intricate network. Sometimes this is visible and can be mapped, but it can also be found in the flow of the acequia, the profundity of language, music and traditions that linger long after a note has been played, the dust rising ever so slightly from an ancient dance. All of these hold the memory of places, and its people and spirit. But these spaces are also sacred because here is where people have lived for generations, burying their dead, nurturing their young, as well as their minds and their hearts.

In this way, navigating through historic trauma toward transformation will require a roadmap. No matter the direction, it should be expected that making a change of this nature will inevitably cause discord in the community. Making space for peaceful protest is an imperative, however, for civic discourse has always depended upon it for transformation. What follows are some high level recommendations and strategies. Building upon years of advocacy, whether from a film or through direct protest, this work has already begun. The transformative work in the Española and Santa Fe Fiestas are testament to those decades-long and more recent efforts thanks to the courage and commitment to open, honest and moving conversations. But, even there, it is important to recognize that change is a process wherein much more work is required. Beyond these two events, there are many other issues at hand, each requiring perhaps a concerted strategy. In developing some thoughts and ideas as recommendations, we first must recognize the fundamental importance of truth telling and acknowledge historical realities, both of which have framed over time this place we now call New Mexico. We must also identify the values that are core to the communities subject to this report, perhaps utilizing existing structures to do so. Finally, we should be open to continual iteration and prototyping, as this work remains one of process.

Core Values

Core values, like wisdom and memory, are deeply embedded in the world views and structures of traditional land-based communities like those of New Mexico — both Native American and Indo-Hispano — and retaining these values over time, they have governed life, creating balance. Because of the devastation of historic trauma, however, knowledge and wisdom has been lost for some. In this way then, decolonization is about recovery. Santa Fe is still moving through its decision to abolish the Entrada. For some of us who have been working on this for a long period, we recognize that this is only the beginning. What must follow transformation is reconciliation and healing. In this work, it will be critical to develop a process engaging the community to identify core values, to identify the source of those values and to define to what extent these values serve to guide lives. We expect that this individual, heart-centered work will support collective healing.

Theoretical Models and Frameworks

There are certain theoretical models that I have turned to over the years in my work to decolonize, and they remain relevant to this process of transformation, if not reconciliation and healing. The work of Linda Tuhiwai Smith for instance, is definitive in this way. In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, Tuhiwai Smith identifies 25 Indigenous projects that she notes have “derived from the imperatives inside the struggles of the 1970s that placed at the center the survival of peoples, cultures and languages and the struggle to become self-determining, the need to take back control of destinies.” These projects include: Claiming, Testimonies. Storytelling, Celebrating Survival, Remembering, Indigenizing, Intervening, Revitalizing, Connecting, Reading, Writing, Representing, Gendering, Envisioning, Reframing, Restoring, Returning, Democratizing, Networking, Naming, Protecting, Creating, Negotiating, Discovering, and Sharing. Each of these are ideas for change that move toward transformation.

The models identified by Smith are universal, particularly as they are drawn from histories and experiences of the past and across many cultures. There are other models embedded in local wisdom and cultural traditions that are also equally worth examining. I think of the Cochiti Storyteller, a seated clay figurine of a grandmother or grandfather, blossoming with children, with an open mouth, reflecting the active role of telling story. I have always thought of this figure, not only as the embodiment of tradition and creativity, but revealing a profound wisdom and philosophy — a muse relating the collective memory of a community, serving not only to tell story, but revealing the power that narrative holds in bringing community together. I am also reminded of what in northern New Mexico is called la resolana. This place is literally the south side of a building or a plaza, shielded from the wind and bathed in the rays of the sun. What makes this place dynamic is the fact that for generations it has gathered men and women who carefully articulate observations about their contemporary world, relating the memory and wisdom of those that came before them, and creating an open dialogue for what may come. In both of these examples that awaken possibility, the methodology is storytelling and dialogue is pivotal.


In the spirit of imagining reconciliation, I propose the following ideas for consideration:

Following the protests that took place in Albuquerque to remove the statue of Juan de Oñate, under the leadership of Dr. Shelle Sanchez, a community engagement process launched that engaged people from across the city. While these processes are never easy, the workhas provided a framework that may be replicable across communities. More about that project can be found at the following link.

Graphic from the project summary, “Race, History & Healing Project - Juan de Oñate Statue Community Dialogue,” 2020. Graphic from the project summary, “Race, History & Healing Project - Juan de Oñate Statue Community Dialogue,” 2020.

Beyond the inventorying of monuments across the state, one strategy would be to follow the work in New Orleans, and begin a process for removal of those monuments that are deemed challenging in a modern era. Making these determinations, may be the work of a commission.

Another strategy would be to curate the monuments as a community engagement effort in combination with media artists to raise consciousness and engender a creative reimagining and critical remembering. By providing an intersection for arts, technology and history, the aim would be to explore the possible transformation of public spaces into forums for inclusion and multiple voices, versus the current singular, static narratives that have produced negative social relations. Toward developing a process for transformation, the work could help test assumptions and identify new paths of public engagement.


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