Vigil for the missing and stolen reclaims Santa Fe Plaza

It’s time to reactivate sacred nature of city center, organizers say

By: - May 6, 2022 11:59 am

Indigenous attendees were welcomed to form a circle and hold a candlelight vigil for the missing and stolen relatives on Thursday night at the Santa Fe Plaza. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

Hundreds of people packed the Santa Fe Plaza on Thursday night to recite names of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives from New Mexico and Arizona, and to reclaim the sacred nature of what has become a popular tourist destination.

Three Sisters Collective Co-Founder Christina Castro led the crowd in reciting the names while facing in the four cardinal directions. Reading all of the names took 10 minutes. Some broke down in tears.

Some of the names included: Dione Thomas, Ella Mae Begay, Jamie Lynette Yazzie, Pepita Redhair, Ranelle Rose Bennett, Jolene Nez, Shawna Toya, Ashlynne Mike, Lynelle Tafoya, Tomica Yellowhorse, and DeAnna Autumn Leaf Suazo.

Thursday was the final day of the 2022 National Week of Action for MMIWR. In the days leading up to the event, Three Sisters Collective gathered the names from community members to make the Plaza — a place now reserved for tourists and making money — into a space for these families to grieve and heal.

“It’s very important to say the names and honor these relatives who are no longer with us,” Castro (Jemez/Taos) said. “And say it loud so everybody can hear, and say it loud in this space that continues to take our voices and our lives.”

Three Sisters Collective Co-Founder Christina Castro led a recitation of the names of missing and murdered indigenous relatives. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

There were signs, paintings, pizza and live music. Organizers held a raffle and a silent auction, and the proceeds went to families of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives.

Indigenous attendees were welcomed to form a circle and hold a candlelight vigil for the missing and stolen.

At the center of the plaza is a wood box surrounded by metal fencing, which hides the remains of the so called “Soldiers Monument,” which Castro said “is the monument dedicated to, basically, our genocide.”

The Santa Fe Police Department monitored the entire event Thursday night, and sent at least five police officers who could be seen standing watch. Surveillance equipment has towered over the Santa Fe Plaza around the clock ever since protesters tore down the obelisk in October 2020.

Two blocks north, the monument to Kit Carson still stands, Castro said, “in spite of our city’s and mayor’s promise to remove these racist monuments.”

“This is all connected,” Castro said, her voice breaking, nearly drowned out by cheers from the crowd. “The dehumanization in this city — in this state — is real.”

Indigenous people contribute to the community and economy of Santa Fe and New Mexico as a whole, Castro said.

“We deserve to be human, we deserve to live with integrity as Indigenous women, and matriarchs, and two-spirited relatives,” Castro said. “So speak loud, and speak these names into the universe, and keep the memory of our loved ones alive.”

After the final musical performance at the end of the vigil, what remained of the crowd was mostly Indigenous people. Three Sisters Collective member Autumn Dawn (Taos, Comanche) encouraged them to reclaim the historical significance of the Santa Fe Plaza through prayer and by remembering that their ancestors lived here.

“This is a sacred space, historically, and we need to remind each other of that,” Dawn said. “So when you come here, it’s not some tourist Disneyland, this is some sacred space, and it’s time to reactivate that.”

The family of Shawna Toya took part in a candlelight vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous relatives on Thursday at the Santa Fe Plaza. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.