Inhumane criminals don’t deserve public memorials

Last week in Alcalde, New Mexico, a statue of Don Juan de Onate was whisked into hiding. In Albuquerque, protesters and vigilantes clashed over another statue of de Onate. One protester was shot and several heavily armed vigilantes were taken into police custody. New Mexico’s governor said that these vigilantes were there “to menace protesters, to present an unsanctioned show of unregulated force.” Although some people laud de Onata as a cultural father figure, indigenous people see him quite differently.

In 1598, Don Juan de Onate became Viceroy of the New Mexico territory. Although he was primarily concerned with expanding his family’s silver mines, he also imposed a “foot tax” upon the indigenous people. By 1599, relations with the Acoma tribe deteriorated over the “foot tax” and violence ensued.

On Jan, 21, 1599, de Onate ordered soldiers to crush 2,000 indigenous protesters. Over three days, the crusaders put 800 people to the sword. Five-hundred others were captured and those men and boys over the age of 12 were condemned to 20 years of enslavement. Men over 25 were additionally ordered to have one foot cut off. Indigenous children were given to the church and it is speculated that they too were enslaved. Juan de Onate’s cruelty became so infamous that he was put on trial in Mexico City, found guilty and sent back to Spain.

Today’s public servants ought to recognize that memorials in public spaces glorifying heinous criminals deserve passionate condemnation.

Ross Douglass