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Natives Fade In and Out of Santa Fe’s Cultural Map

Santa Fe’s cultural map isn’t as inclusive of the Native American population in the city as it could have been.

Historic Santa Fe was built on the conquest of Native peoples. Every Conquistador and his underling has a street, park or shopping mall named in his honor. But try searching for Popé Plaza, Calle Catiti, Tupatu Trails, or any other public byway honoring the 17th century revolutionaries of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. They’re nowhere on the map, literally.

In January 2016, the city’s mayor, and Arts Commission, contracted Dr. Estevan Rael-Galvez, a former New Mexico State historian and artistic leader of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, to create a cultural map of the city. This kind of creative mapmaking was envisioned as a vehicle for the community to inventory its cultural assets, and prepare a roadmap for the way forward toward enriched equity and economic capacity.

On January 12, 2017, after a process of public engagement via meetings, surveys and public commenting, additional research, reflection and writing, the 112 pages of analysis, colorful graphs, charts, illustrations and appendices that comprise “Culture Connects Santa Fe: A Cultural Cartography” were unveiled.


Had Natives fared better in the cultural map than the street map? Were their specific cultural priorities made visible and given consideration in its “10 Strategies, 28 Recommendations and more than a100 Ideas to move forward?”

“There are many cultural institutions in Santa Fe that honor and feature Native Art, from the annual Indian Market organized by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, the Institute of American Indian Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, the Wheelwright Museum, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, and the School for Advanced Research,” explained artist Michael Namingha, Hopi/Ohkay Owingeh, whose family-owned gallery, Niman Fine Art, has been on the Santa Fe Plaza for over 25 years. A former city arts commissioner, Namingha was a member of the nine-person working group that helped guide Culture Connects.

These blockbuster institutions were front and center in the mapping under the headings of museums and cultural sites; Indian Market, which is estimated by SWAIA to bring 120,000 annual visitors to the city, was mentioned frequently as a key attraction and defining cultural experience. What was perhaps less apparent in the process were Native people themselves. From page 1 of the Executive Summary:

“[Santa Fe] is a place set in the context of indigenous homelands. Beneath the modern city lay the remains of a village including gardens, middens, and wall footings delineating houses dating from between A.D. 600 and 1425. Contemporary Native American Tewa communities still recognize the site as Po’oge (White Shell Water Place).”

But the thread of reality of Native peoples and their connection to place is soon obscured in the polite and gentle passages that follow. The land is “resettled” by the Spanish, people come from far and wide to the modern city. But nowhere do we learn that Natives now comprise only 5 percent of the city’s population of 70,000, or anything about the complexity within that 5 percent.

Artist Valerie Rangel, who is of Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache, Diné descent, and was tapped by Rael-Galvez to be a table captain at the “Women and Creativity” event, provided this insight. “Santa Fe is a segregated and gentrified town,” she explained, “with a diverse Native American population that comes from over a hundred different tribes.”

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Rereading the map through that lens, one becomes more focused on the absence of Native variety and nuance. Frybread is mentioned, but that seems a poor stand-in as a cultural marker for all the other missing dishes and spice of Native life. This lack of detail is perhaps explained because Native participation in the public engagement events, where much of the information used in the mapping was obtained, was sparse.

“Despite efforts to spread word of mouth in our urban Indian community,” explained Emily Haozous (Apache), “a lot of people didn’t even know about it, which is unfortunate given that Santa Fe exploits the Native identity so strongly.” Haozous, who is Allan Houser’s granddaughter, also helped at “Women and Creativity.”

Indian issues such as “encouraging greater enforcement of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act,” and “respectful branding of multi-ethnic images,” did find their way into the Cartography’s Roadmap.

Carson Vicenti, Jicarilla Apache, is seen here with his family at the 2016 SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market, one of the events mentioned in Santa Fe’s cultural map.

Carson Vicenti, Jicarilla Apache, is seen here with his family at the 2016 SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market, one of the events mentioned in Santa Fe’s cultural map.

Brian Vallo (Acoma Pueblo), director of the Indian Arts Research Center, who followed the progress of the Culture Connects project in his role as member of the Santa Fe Arts Commission, welcomes the further “protection of cultural patrimony materials that continue to be sold and exchanged in violation of various federal laws.” He also believes a branding policy is “important to preserving the integrity of all ethnic groups that comprise our city.”

Other suggestions were potentially useful according to Vallo, such as organizing cultural exchange tours (“with proper planning”), increasing ethnic diversity on boards, supporting multi-lingual, multi-cultural and inter-cultural programming, for which he’d “like to see city departments, school system(s), cultural institutions, and the non-profit sector organize a more collaborative effort.”

Regarding the “Entrada,” a pageant that depicts the “bloodless” re-taking of the city in 1692 by Diego De Vargas, the Roadmap’s suggestion states:

“Encourage all stakeholders involved in producing the annual Fiesta to create an inclusive experience that addresses existing social tensions, while engendering pride.”

“That’s impossible,” Haozous responded. “Because there’s no pride there for Natives. How can you feel proud for being made to feel shame for who you are? Our pain has to be acknowledged.”

This story was originally published February 10, 2017.