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The family of James Johns, the Hopi and Akimel O’odham man shot last week during a celebration outside a Rio Arriba County building, speaks out and asks the public to support their effort to obtain justice.

Johns, an artist, father, and activist, remains in critical condition as a result of the shooting where a group of Indigenous organizers, women, and elders were celebrating the postponement of the re-dedication of former New Mexico Governor Juan de Oñate’s statue.

“Last week’s premeditated shooting is just another historical event in a series of traumatic events in Indigenous history,” Jacob John’s family said in a statement. “That this intentional, premeditated act of violence was perpetrated against a peaceful prayer camp, located at the former Oñate statue draws attention to the lengthy history of injustices against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color by dehumanizing systems and divisive ideologies the community was protesting.”

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The Oñate statue was removed on June 15, 2020, from Alcalde, New Mexico, after many statues of colonial figures were toppled or removed after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. Rio Arriba County officials planned to reinstall the Oñate statue on Thursday, September 28 in front of a county annex building, but postponed the reinstallation after community members asked country officials to delay the statue re-dedication earlier in the week.

“We call on the media and public officials to stop naming the perpetrator and sharing his image or video of the incident and instead keep attention where it belongs: on healing and the cause of justice,” the family of Jacob Johns said in a statement on October 3, 2023. “The horrific and racist incident happened last week while Tewa (Española) community members held a sacred ceremony and protested the reinstallation of a statue honoring a Spanish conquistador.”

The family expressed that it wants the public to know that the shooting incident was not a clash between protestors, as it has been described by some outlets. “Indigenous community members were conducting a peaceful and spiritual assembly when they were attacked and made victims of an attempted mass murder,” they said in a statement.

The family then said that the shooter’s gun had jammed, and if it had not, more people would have been injured or killed. 

Red Nation, the organizer of the protest, then turned peaceful celebration, said in a press release on September 30, that eyewitnesses confirmed that after the initial shot that struck Jacob Johns in the torso, the shooter adjusted his aim and pulled the trigger a second time while aiming at another attendee, but the gun jammed.

The shooter then ran to a nearby parking lot and sped off in a white Tesla. He was later apprehended eleven miles away in Pojoaque, New Mexico by New Mexico State Police.

Jacob John’s family shared that the physical, mental, and emotional trauma the event caused to him will be lifelong, but that Jacob is not the only victim in the shooting. 

“The physical trauma was with Jacob, but there are other emotional traumas that were inflicted on the full community, including the women, children, and elders that were present that day, and their stories must be told,” the family said.

According to the family and others, the shooter was removed earlier by police for disruptive behavior; but the police left, leaving the crowd of largely Indigenous people, including women and elders, vulnerable to already identified threats.

The shooter remains in custody, and the family is asking for the local district court to keep the shooter in jail and for prosecutors to add a federal hate crime modifier to the charges. “This was a racially and culturally motivated hate crime and must be treated as such,” the family said.

 The family has organized a GoFundMe for Jacob’s medical expenses and has raised more than $220,000.  

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About The Author
Author: Darren ThompsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a staff reporter for Native News Online who is based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.