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Remembering Herman Agoyo: An Ohkay Owingeh Leader

Former Ohkay Owingeh tribal governor Herman Agoyo will be fondly remembered for bringing a statue of Pueblo Revolt leader Po’pay to Washington, D.C.
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Herman Agoyo, who was a member of the Ohkay Owingeh tribal council since 1992, serving as governor, lieutenant governor, and in several other offices, walked on April 11, 2017.

While he earned a number of awards throughout his life, and was an author, cultural activist, and fought for Native American education, two of his greatest accomplishments happened in the same year. It was in 2005 that a statue of Pueblo Rebellion leader Po’pay was placed in the National Statuary Hall Collection and that the tribe returned to being called Ohkay Owingeh.

“To the Pueblo people here, Po’pay is our hero. Tribes were on the verge of losing their cultural identity when the Pueblo Revolt brought everything back on track for our people,” Agoyo has said.


Born around 1630, Po’pay was among 47 other Pueblo men arrested in 1675 for the “alleged practice of sorcery,” writes Ohkay Owingeh Lt. Gov. Matthew Martinez on the New Mexico history website. After a trial, four of the men were sentenced to hanging, the rest were lashed and imprisoned. Po’pay later led the revolt against the Spanish colonial government.

“This history and these contemplations are put forth so that there may be knowledge and acceptance of the man who surrendered himself to the immorality of war and all of its heartaches in order that his people would survive, that they would continue to live and pray in the manner of their ancestors, and that the sun would continue to shine and the rain would continue to fall,” Agoyo wrote in a 2005 book with Joe Sando, Po’pay: Leader of the First American Revolution.

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As noted by the Santa Fe New Mexican, the road to having Po’Pay represent New Mexico in Statuary Hall was “long and controversial,” but Agoyo persisted. The same year the statue of Po’pay by Cliff Fragua, of Jemez Pueblo, was placed in Statuary Hall, Ohkay Owingey officially rid itself of the title San Juan Pueblo, which was given to them by the Spanish. The name Ohkay Owingey is the Tewa name tribal members had always used, it means “place of the strong people.”

“That’s who we are, so we should be proud of that. … San Juan was a name given to us to which we had no choice,” Agoyo told The New Mexican in 2005. “I hope that people respect our desires here and that in time they won’t be confused with what to call San Juan Pueblo.”

Agoyo was born in 1934, and grew up during a time when Indians weren’t expected to accomplish much other than vocational trades. But Agoyo wanted more. “By the time you reached ninth grade, you had to make a choice of what vocation you were going to specialize in. Some of us weren’t interested in that. We wanted to go to college. … As I look back, I’m very grateful that the principal and some of the teachers listened to what we were saying. We asked for chemistry, foreign language and typing,” Agoyo told the group gathered to honor him as a Santa Fe Living Treasure in 1991.

Agoyo earned his bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College in 1958 and later his master’s from the University of New Mexico. But he noticed something lacking in his education. In his 2005 book, he wrote, “all that schooling taught me many things of the world but nothing of myself or my people and our history. I learned about the causes of the American Revolutionary War and all the wars between then and now. I learned about Plato, ancient Greece, and the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, but not one word was ever spoken of the great leader of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Po’pay. In fact, even the Pueblo Revolt itself has been merely a footnote in most history books, if it’s mentioned at all.”

It took him nearly three decades, but he got recognition for Po’Pay. And in 2006, The New Mexican named him one of its 10 Who Made a Difference.

Martinez has his own memories of Agoyo, which he shared with the Santa Fe New Mexican. “Growing up, I remember him as a runner. He was always running up and down the hills. Running is a tribal tradition. He helped get young people interested in cross-country running. He was a tribal historian dedicated to preserving and protecting the Pueblo way of life.”

Agoyo is survived by his wife, several children, and grandchildren.