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 Opinion. In 1599, Juan de Oñate, a Spanish conquistador who became New Mexico’s first colonial governor, committed atrocities against the Acoma Pueblo people. During his reign, the Spaniard directed the murder of nearly 1,000 Native people, enslaved Indigenous women, and ordered the amputation of 80 tribal men’s right feet.  

To some non-Natives--not all--in the region, Oñate was an historic hero celebrated throughout New Mexico in statues erected in public spaces.  

To Native Americans, Oñate was far from a hero and is considered a murderous villain. Among the Acoma descendants and other Native Americans, memories of his evil deeds have reverberated through generations. 

In 2020, during the aftermath of George Flyod’s murder at the hands of members of the Minneapolis Police Department, controversial monuments and statues were removed from public places across the country, including a 10-foot tall bronze  statue of Christopher Columbus that was toppled in the plaza east of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.

The removal of these controversial statues spread to America’s Southwest. Fearing damage to an Oñate statue, Rio Arriba County officials in Española, New Mexico had the statue removed and put in storage. At the time, the citizens were told there had not been a final decision made about the statue’s future. 

Recently, Rio Arriba County’s chair of the county commission decided to resurrect the statue and have it restored in a public place near the county building. Native Americans in the region were not pleased and decided to protest the decision. It was scheduled for placement on Thursday. Given the protest by Native Americans, the county postponed the reinstallation of the statue.

Around noon local time, a group of 60 Native Americans showed up for a celebration rally, instead of the planned protest against the reinstallment of a statue of the murderer conquistador.

According to local media reports, Ryan Martinez, 23, wearing a Make America Great Again (MAGA) red cap, joined the celebration rally. But it appears he was not there to celebrate with the Native Americans. Instead he was there as a counter protester. MAGA followers take the opposite view of those who want to see statues and monuments that honor racist figures from the past removed from public places.

Martinez, whose social media revealed pro-Trump statements and anti-Biden profanities, believes the lies perpetrated by the defeated ex-president. His Facebook post reads: “TRUMP WON.” 

At the rally, a makeshift altar was erected with candles where prayers were said. Organizers of the rally wanted to protect the altar from counter protesters who may want to disturb the candles. 

Jacob Johns (Hopi/Akimel O’odham), from Spokane, Washington, was present and was part of a group of Native men who volunteered to protect the altar. Johns, an Indigenous climate activist who was a Standing Rock water protector saw Martinez approach the altar. 

The MAGA follower approached the altar, pushing past women and children. Wanting to protect the women and children from harm, some Native American men grabbed Martinez to remove him from the crowd.

Allegedly, Martinez then pulled out a gun and shot Johns in the chest. Jumping a short fence, Martinez escaped in a white Tesla. He was later apprehended several miles away by law enforcement.

Johns, the father of an 11-year-old daughter, was airlifted to an Albuquerque hospital where he underwent surgery. As of Saturday, he was in the intensive care unit and listed in critical, but stable condition. He was scheduled for another surgery. 

Meanwhile, 500 miles west and a couple hours later, President Joe Biden was in Tempe, Arizona where he honored the memory of the late Sen. John McCain, who was a Republican. Biden, a Democrat who served in the U.S. Senate at the same time while McCain served, said he and McCain were like brothers who could argue policy on the Senate floor and then go to lunch together and be civil. The president used the occasion to decry the actions of MAGA extremists and made an impassioned speech to defend democracy. 

“Democracy means rejecting and repudiating political violence. Regardless of party, such violence is never, never, never acceptable in America. It’s undemocratic, and it must never be normalized to advance political power,” President Biden said.

Perhaps, the president was referencing Trump’s comments made last Sunday on social media suggesting that the outgoing head of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley would be executed in times gone by.   

We have seen over the past few years how people are triggered by Trump’s words of violence against his political foes. I’m not sure if Martinez’s alleged violence was a direct result of something Trump said, but it seems clear: The shooting in New Mexico was an act of political violence. 

Native Americans need to repudiate the violence promoted by the MAGA extremists and keep resisting those who want to glorify murderers like Juan de Oñate

Thayék gde nwéndëmen - We are all related.

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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].