Conquistador means “conqueror” – not benevolent grandfather!


Channing Concho, left, and American Horse photograph themselves after a statue of Juan de Onate was removed in June in Albuquerque

The movement for racial justice is toppling statues across America, from Robert E. Lee to Christopher Columbus — and now the Spanish conquistador, Juan de Oñate, the first European to colonize the arid wilderness of New Mexico, the state’s first colonial governor and a despot who inflicted misery on Native Americans…

Time was when there were costumed pageants in the cities of Santa Fe and Española that reenacted the entry of Spanish governors into New Mexico, but both have been permanently cancelled after protests that they were culturally offensive to Native Americans.

Authorities have removed both statues and put them in storage, with their futures uncertain…

Oñate left Mexico in 1598 with a long caravan of settlers, missionaries, and livestock to establish a colony at his own expense, with the goal of subjugating and Christianizing the Indigenous population and extracting all the riches he could. He made land grants to his colonists and empowered them to collect tribute from the forced labor of Indians.

In the most infamous episode, Spanish soldiers who had demanded cornmeal and blankets from the Indians of the Acoma Pueblo were attacked by native warriors. Twelve soldiers died in the fighting. In retribution, Oñate declared a war “by fire and blood” against the Acoma. Soldiers returned, scaled the soaring mesa — now known as “Sky City” an hour west of Albuquerque — and slaughtered at least 800 warriors, women and children. The Spaniards enslaved most of the survivors, and cut a foot off of 24 young men as a warning to other rebellious pueblos.

Most folks in any generation have portions of their ancestral culture that might make them proud – if that’s important to you. Certainly, any group that fashioned and led a fight for freedom, against tyranny, is worth respecting. Murder and exploitation aren’t characteristics worth celebrating.