ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Pueblos opposing the creation of statues to honor Juan de Onate said the conquistador is a war criminal, and to honor him is to honor the slaughter of two-thirds of the indigenous peoples of the Southwest.
C. Maurus Chino of Acoma Pueblo, speaking at the recent ''Huaba Hanu (Our voices will be heard) Listening Conference'' in Albuquerque, said the truth needs to be told of the violence and genocide that Onate brought to this land.
''The indigenous people of the Southwest endured genocide, theft of homelands, and forced Christianity. Thousands of people perished, whole tribes disappeared.''
Chino was among the speakers at the conference, sponsored by White Dawn House and Southwest Indigenous Alliance, speaking out against commemorations of the conquistadors.
The cities of Albuquerque and El Paso plan to erect monuments that ''glorify a savage and violent time of our history,'' Chino said.
During the conference, Pueblos voiced opposition to Albuquerque's Tricentennial, a celebration of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Albuquerque, and the mammoth statues being erected in honor of Onate.
Albuquerque's monument, set to be installed in 2006, was renamed ''La Entrada'' to tone down the controversy. The four and one-half story insult in El Paso was renamed ''The Equestrian'' after protests. Already, a statue honors Onate near Espanola, N.M.
''Events that celebrate the subjugation of another people are tacky, insensitive and a slap in the face to indigenous cultures,'' said Chino, founder of the Southwest Indigenous Alliance.
''Long before any European colonization, the people were here. The people were not merely wandering around in soulless half-existence waiting to be 'discovered' by Columbus or any Spaniard conquistador. Indigenous cultures in the Southwest and all of North America were vibrant and accomplished.''
Before the arrival of the conquistadors, 60 million indigenous people lived on the continent of North America and millions more in Central and South America.
''When Columbus blundered into the New World with Spanish soldiers, the 'indigenous world' was to experience a violence shift in existence,'' he said, pointing out that Columbus began the slaughter of the people in the Caribbean.
''Even the Jewish Holocaust pales in comparison. In the Americas, hundreds of millions of indigenous people perished from violence and diseases brought by the Spanish. And what was the motivation for this madness? It was greed; greed for wealth, greed for land, greed for the very souls of the people.''
In April 1598, Onate, originally from Spain, arrived from Zacatecas, Mexico in search of gold. He came with Franciscan friars, crossed the Rio Grande, held Catholic mass and took possession of the lands and resources north of the Rio Grande. The purpose of the brutal invasion was subjugation to the Spanish Crown, Chino said.
''Contrary to some historians, we never saw the Spanish as gods on mythic beasts; rather, we saw them as men with
In January 1599, Onate sent a large force to Acoma and a battle lasted three days. Over 800 men, women, and children were butchered. Men over the age of 25 were sentenced to have one foot cut and 25 years of slavery. Males and females between the ages of 12 and 25 were also given 25 years of slavery.
Sixty young girls were sent to priests in Mexico, never to return to Acoma.
Even for the Spanish Crown, Onate's actions were disgraceful and he was banished from New Mexico.
''Onate, a savage and brutal war leader, inept as a political leader, a disgrace to his government - this is the conquistador so proudly on display in Alcalde, New Mexico, and whose monument will shame the cities of El Paso and Albuquerque. After perpetual banishment our governing bodies have brought Onate back.
''We are forced to honor a war criminal,'' said Chino.
The oppression of Spanish rule resulted in two-thirds of the indigenous people perishing in the Southwest during the dark years of 1591 - 1638.
In 1680, the public whipping of Pope' (pronounced poh-PAY), a medicine man from present-day San Juan Pueblo, changed the course of history. Humiliated by the whipping for practicing his beliefs, Pope' led a revolution to drive out the Spaniards and reclaim his peoples' homelands.
''A revolution against what was then the most powerful nation in world; it was a sacred uprising of complete success. The revolution of 1680 drove the Spanish out of the Southwest, and for 12 years the land was restored to the rightful caretakers,'' Chino said.
Still, the statues of Onate remain, including the first mammoth one in Alcalde, just outside Espanola, N.M., built with 1.2 million tax dollars.