The contested obelisk at Santa Fe Plaza before it was torn down (via Wikimedia Commons)

For more than 150 years, an obelisk that celebrated the genocide of Native Americans stood at the center of a plaza in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico. That changed earlier this week on Indigenous Peoples Day, October 12, when a group of protesters tore the monument down with chains and ropes.

Before pulling down the obelisk, activists from Indigenous groups and their allies held a weekend-long protest at the Santa Fe Plaza. During the demonstrations, some protesters chained themselves to the base of the monument, leading to confrontations with police officers. Two protesters were arrested after the monument was destroyed, and police are looking for more suspects.

The contested obelisk was erected in 1868 to honor Civil War Union soldiers. It was long-criticized by Indigenous groups and other locals for an inscription on its base celebrating “the heroes who have fallen in the various battles against savage Indians in the territory of New Mexico.” In 1974, an unidentified man chiseled the word “savage” off the plaque. Others have since then filled in the blank space with the word “courageous”.

Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber denounced the toppling of the obelisk, though he had previously supported removing it from the plaza.

In a video address on Monday, Webber strongly condemned “the actions and violence that broke out on the Plaza today that led to the wanton destruction of the Obelisk.”

“That is not how we do things in Santa Fe,” the mayor said. “There is no place for people destroying historic monuments on their own.”

A statement by the city of Santa Fe said that there are “a variety of legal issues under review in the City Attorney’s office” regarding the obelisk. “Everyone should acknowledge that these situations are complex and the issues we’re engaged with are complicated,” the statement added.

According to a report by ABC News, a state-contracted crew attempted to remove the monument over the summer but found it too heavy to be carried out of the plaza.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Webber announced the City Council will be holding meetings with the community to address the concerns of the protesters.

“It’s clear Santa Fe and New Mexico have more than hundreds of years of pain and suffering on many sides,” he said. “The events of yesterday give us the opportunity to come together and stand up.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...