Yesterday, Indigenous people and allies gathered on Tewa land, in the town now known as Española, to pray and celebrate the postponement of the reinstallation of a statue honoring a conquistador notorious for the cruel and genocidal treatment of Indigenous people in what is now New Mexico. Juan de Oñate’s legacy includes the massacre of hundreds of Acoma Puebloans in the late 1500s, after which he cut off the right feet of dozens of men who fought to protect their communities and ancestral lands.
A gunman, reportedly wearing a MAGA hat linked to far-right extremism, charged toward the gathering. He shot and injured Jacob Johns, a Native American protester who witnesses say used his body to protect the women and children at the event. Our hearts go out to Johns, his family, loved ones, and his community, and we wish for a speedy recovery.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico condemns this act of racist and hateful violence, as well as the cruel effort by the Rio Arriba County Commission to engage in cultural erasure and violence by honoring a colonizer — whose violence was too extreme even for the Spanish king — against the clear wishes of the Indigenous community that has called this area home millennia before New Mexico was a state.
We stand firmly against violence or aggression threatening the safety and well-being of those who peacefully gather in prayer. Such violence is morally indefensible and runs counter to the values we hold dear as a society. The First Amendment does not protect the violent conduct which was cowardly displayed in Española yesterday.
We know our racist criminal legal system will not bring true justice and healing to the people harmed in yesterday’s shooting, so we will follow the guidance of Indigenous leaders and advocates on the ground for what true reconciliation looks like. We urge the Rio Arriba County commissioners to do the same.