Using Restorative Justice to Address the Obelisk Could Have National Implications

We return to the task of healing our country’s gaping divisions and lay out a possible strategy to do so. We turn the post over to Jeff Holbrook who outlines how relying on Restorative Justice principles may be our best hope. We include a Call To Action

Let’s Seek Justice & Reconciliation, Not Punishment

Below is a guest post from Jeff Holbrook. You will see that much of what Jeff and I share, is based upon principles of restorative justice, as opposed to retributive justice. And so, at the end of the post you will find resources to deepen your understanding of this important approach to healing community harm.

In conversation with Jeff, we both felt that the time to offer input is now, before we read of a process that has been flawed from the start, a concern that was amplified by the Mayor’s proposal to the City Council for how to advance the CHART Commission process. We were very heartened that the City Council refused to act on the Mayor’s proposal that the CHART commission take two years to develop a proposal as that seems an inordinately lengthy process for a conflict that is tearing apart our community. We had even more problems with the Mayor’s proposed composition of the commission.

Following Jeff’s commentary, I discuss concerns about the Mayor’s proposal for a timeline and the composition of the CHART. I also make some specific suggestions and then offer speaking points and contact information for the Mayor and each City Council member. It is very important that we contact our elected officials now before they advance a process that will not achieve the result we seek: healing. Read on!

From Jeff:

With the national shit-show that is grabbing headlines, it is often possible to overlook that which is local and right in front of us and deserving of attention. I appreciated your recent words [“recent words” = Retake blog, “Can We Ever Heal? We Examine Extremism, the Obelisk & the Great Divide: Such an Important Post”] about the obelisk and connecting it to the many levels of healing we are so in need of! In Santa Fe we are at a really important pivotal moment, when we have our own needs for healing and grappling with how to bring that about. Which brings me to my concern. Santa Feans are at a critical juncture where we are going to be making decisions about important next steps for the plaza. The mayor has owned up to his inaction in instituting the Truth and Reclamation commission that led up to the removal of the plaza monument. What seems to be moving forward has now been renamed as CHAR and I’ve heard that he has started to contact stakeholders (i.e. tribal elders) to meet and hear the many voices and discuss their truths.

I think the chosen process on moving forward is of utmost importance. My concern is with who is being contacted, who’s voice is being recognized and heard, the truths that come out of this, what is done with this information, and the transparency of the process. Since I feel this process is not as transparent as it should be, it’s important to know who is making decisions for deciding who’s voices are heard. For example, Tribal elders are good initial contacts, but thinking they can speak for all indigenous people is a mistake. Including the voices of younger activists, such as those from the Three Sisters Collective, or Red Nation would be important voices to include. Judging by some of the fallout over the destruction of the obelisk, some activists may not feel safe speaking openly, so that is an important consideration.

My concerns are with the process of this new CHART commission, who is making decisions on what inclusiveness looks like, how this information is gathered, and how this information is disseminated to all stakeholders. Transparency is a key component of this process.

For me, restorative justice is at the center of this issue. The task ahead is to bring to the foreground and listen deeply to the voices of the people who have been affected by the plaza monument and its removal. The purpose of this important first step is to bring everyone to a common understanding. This is the base from which we move forward to the next stage, when we can make decisions about how to bring about justice for those affected. The same can be said for what is being perceived about those that took part in the destruction of the obelisk. The only things I have read about concerning these people are that they are being hunted down with the goal being prosecution. This is a huge opportunity to walk the talk. Using the restorative justice process to deal with the people involved in the monument’s removal is the only way to move forward and heal. Follow the same steps as the Truth and Reconciliation commission. Find the voices affected and restore justice. Putting people away will not lead to healing, as we are keenly aware with our current criminal justice system.

Other than helping me to sort through my feelings and ideas surrounding this local issue, why am I writing to you? I know that you have a strong platform and an even stronger base of supporters. I am hoping that you can continue to make the “obelisk issue” front and center for us, to help the important process in front of us be transparent and just.

Thank you for your time and attention on this issue. Rest up. We’ve got an important week ahead of us.

And, thank you Jeff for a most thoughtful and provocative piece.

And, So How Do We Heal?

Jeff’s piece caused me to text the Mayor and encourage him to be very inclusive in both the membership of the CHART and who the CHART members listen to. He replied quickly that “all those who have a stake in this, will be consulted.” That was somewhat reassuring, but how who “has a stake in this” is determined and what “being consulted” involves makes a huge difference.

The CHART process must be placed in context of other city processes where the process was not inclusive and/or lacking in transparency. All you have to do is examine the process for developing the Midtown Project to see that one person’s understanding of an inclusive process can very easily be viewed by others as an exclusive process and one person may view a process as transparent while others view that same process as secretive.

“History may not repeat itself, but it tends to rhyme.” Heather Cox Richardson.

I sense a rhyme of history coming from the Mayor’s CHART commission composition.

Mayor’s Proposed CHART Commission Membership

  • Three representatives from Hispanic cultural groups;
  • Three from Native American cultural groups;
  • Two with historical or cultural expertise;
  • Two with spiritual or religious leadership roles;
  • Two from the Santa Fe Arts Commission or the local arts community;
  • One with professional experience at a national museum or in historical interpretation;
  • Two former elected city officials;
  • A state government worker involved in art, history and culture;
  • A person with a legal background involving city ordinances;
  • Aomeone with mediator experience; and
  • Three at-large members from the Santa Fe community.

My concerns with the above list is that it fails to recognize that the most fundamental outcome that must come from the process is that the Hispanic and Indigenous communities arrive at an understanding of the harm each community has incurred and caused and to find a way to acknowledge and respect their histories and cultures in a way that acknowledges the harms done. Before monuments can be considered, history needs to be discussed and messaging needs to be developed that frames how we celebrate our history and culture that is honest, empathic, and educational, not divisive.

I think the development of the composition of the CHART Commission, should itself be developed by representatives from the communities most impacted: Hispanic and Indigenous, not coming from the Mayor.

My concern about the Mayor’s proposed CHART Commission composition focuses on its inadequate explicit representation from the two primary segments of the community in conflict. First and most importantly, there are only 3 representatives from each of the two groups who are most in conflict about the obelisk and other historical monuments. To use the Mayor’s terminology, these are the groups that “have the most important stake in this.” Together, the explicit Hispanic/Indigenous representation amounts to less than 1/3 of the CHART commission with the remaining members having far less explicit “stake” in resolving the conflict. By further defining Hispanic and Native representation as coming from “cultural groups” you limit the likely inclusion of key stakeholders like Three Sisters Collective and Red Nation.

This concern could be addressed with a few minor modifications to the remaining list.

  • Specify that the two historical/cultural reps include one representative come from the Hispanic community and one from the Indigenous communit;
  • Specify that the two religious/spiritual reps, include one representative come from the Hispanic community and one from the Indigenous community.
  • Specify that one of the three at large positions go to an Indigenous member of the community and one from the Hispanic community, possibly further specifying that they be representing advocacy groups for those communities. If there is no “qualification” for the at-large representatives, who do they represent?

This alone would ensure that the number of representatives from the Hispanic and Indigenous communities doubled from three each to six each, a majority of the 21 members. But I’d suggest another change.

What’s the point of awarding two seats on the commission to former elected city officials and a state government worker? What “stake” do they have in resolving this conflict? What if instead you remove the two former city elected officials and the state representative and replace them with two representatives each from Indigenous and Hispanic advocacy groups? They have a far greater stake in this than do former elected officials and a government worker. This would further increase the number of representatives with an explicit stake in the outcome.

By refining the list in this way, you wind up with one more member (22) but you ensure that at least 18 of the 22 members come from the populations with the greatest stake in this conflict. The only members not from the impacted communities would be someone with museum experience, someone with legal experience, someone with mediation experince and one at large Santa Fean. With the CHART composed of a membership such as this, we are far more likely to achieve the most important outcome needed, a commitment to how we celebrate our history and culture without doing further harm, indeed by explicitly healing, especially if the process used is explicitly a restorative justice process through which all members share and seeking understanding of historic harms.

We need to learn from history and be very intentional about what we want to be the outcome of our process. One outcome will be a decision about what to do with that space in the Plaza where once an obelisk stood, another decision will be what to do about the obelisk itself. Still other decisions that should be made, is what to do about other monuments that are a source of pride or a source of pain, depending upon who is viewing the monument. But all of these decisions should have as their overarching objective to create a way in which all segments of our community, can celebrate their histories and cultures while learning from that history and collectively healing.

To truly heal, the ensuing process must feel both inclusive and transparent by those who have felt excluded, including Three Sisters Collaborative, Red Nation, YUCCA, and TEWA. As Jeff pointed out, while tribal leadership certainly needs to be consulted, so do these other groups and not by being consigned to just offering public comment, but by having a seat at the table.

It will surprise many that I feel that Virgil Vigil and the Union Protectiva de Santa Fe should also have a seat at the table as they have felt that their Spanish culture has been under attack with decision in June to remove a statue of Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas from a downtown park and with the elimination of the Entrada as a public ceremony.

As I think about such a table, with strident, young indigenous activists, sitting across from angry Union Protectiva de Santa Fe representatives, you realize that the process willl need to be facilitated not by some city of Santa Fe bureaucrat but by a highly skilled facilitator and I think it would be most wise for that facilitator to be skilled in the principles of restorative justice.

The city has another opportunity to avoid further divisions and to foster the healing process: apply the same principles of restorative justice to those who are currently being sought for having pulled down the obelisk. An arrest and trial with the intent of punishing those involved may respond to the instinctive desire for retribution, “someone will pay for this.” But the arrest and prosecution of those involved in bringing down the obelisk will only serve as another forum for dividing our community, with those who had wanted the obelisk removed and those who were angered at how it was removed on opposite sides. And in the criminal justice system only one side can win and one lose and in either case, no one heals.

But if the principles of restorative justice were applied, a different process could unfold, one in which different segments of the community could feel heard and where both sides could achieve a greater understanding of the pain that was inflicted by the presence of the obelisk and the pain that was inflicted by its removal. With that, authentic healing can result. Imagine a process which concludes with a public announcement of the CHART findings with representatives from Three Sisters Collective, Union Protectiva de Santa Fe, and Red Nation celebrating the findings arm-in-arm (post Covid). That would be a promising outcome.

What Can YOU Do?

Please use the contact information below and the speaking points to respectfully ask that the city make the process as inclusive and transparent as possible. The time to do this is now, before a CHART membership is announced and we then find ourselves critiquing what, with constructive input, might have been done better.

Speaking points:

  • Please make the selection of the CHART membership as inclusive as possible. Specifically, ensure that the Union Protectiva de Santa Fe (and others representing those aligned with respect for Spanish culture) and Red Nation, YUCCA, TEWA and Three Sisters Collective are all included in the membership;
  • Please make sure the process is transparent with meetings available to the public via Zoom, with Spanish translation, and with preliminary findings and recommendations available well in advance of decisions being made.
  • Please retain an independent facilitator with experience in restorative justice.
  • Please consider employing principles of restorative justice in how the city deals with those responsible for bringing down the obelisk.
  • Please set a timeline to complete the process before the end of 2021, not 2022.

Contact Information:

What is Restorative Justice?

This is a list of resources that we were given to participants in the Exploring Whiteness zoom meeting a few weeks ago. If you are unfamiliar with restorative justice, these publications would be a good way to explore what is involved. Thanks, to Jennifer Johnson for sending these along.

  1. Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind, (longer read) –   (also attached) This article was included last month also, and was suggested as the focus for this next conversation. 
  2. Restorative Justice: Why Do We Need it? –,  3:00 minute video. Quick basics of restorative justice. 
  3. Using Restorative Justice to Transform Racialized Harm in the U.S. – 2019 National conference –, 28:29 min video. Fania Davis – “In our retributive justice system, if I cause you to suffer then that creates an imbalance in the scales of justice and to rebalance the scales, I must be caused to suffer. We respond to the original harm with a second harm. Ours is a system that harms people who harm people to show that harming people is wrong.” 
  4. Reimagining Prison – Includes the links between racism and incarceration, historically and present day. An interesting format for communicating important information. Easy to scan or explore in-depth.
  5. What is Transformative Justice? –, 10:29 minute video. Presents many facets of transformative justice. How do we prevent and stop harm without creating more violence and harm? Practitioners define the scope and potential of transformative justice. 
  6. Beyond Reform: Abolishing Prisons| Maya Schenwar | TEDxBaltimore –, 15:55 minute video. Maya, the author of “Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better,” explains many of the ways that the US prison system, which is grounded in racism and economic injustice, is inherently destructive and then outlines ideas for alternatives.

In solidarity and hope,

Paul, Roxanne and Jeff

Categories: Social & Racial Justice & Immigration Reform

Tags: , ,

7 replies

  1. Very thoughtful–thank you! Joy Garratt

  2. This sounds good, however someone should be looking at the forces aligned against anything restorative or sensible. The national “Sh*t Show” has undermined and infected local politics, just like the Corona Virus.

    The same interests that want to keep that ugly marker on the plaza, were too short sighted, greedy and ideologically driven, to consider putting it out at one of the Civil War sites. This same bunch were “unaware” of the markers for the Confederacy. There seems to be a bit of tourist traffic to these sites, yet all they have is hand made signs and a wide spot to pull off of the road.

    Today there is a senate hearing on Big Tech, It is a circus, with only one party with any idea of what the problem is.

    You can bet that the republican alternative reality was cultivated by these ghoulish authoritarian tech bros. Google has been doing this for years,

    Facebook is threatening to sue researchers, this is after they lied to congress about transparency. They are attacking researchers at NYU. They never did allow any academics access to their targeting. No one has unpacked what Facebook and Google did in 2016, it would help our Senators, focus in on the real problem. This is a lot darker and more dangerous than they seem to be aware of. They failed to regulate, or even observe what Facebook and Google have been up to for years.

    I still don’t think anyone is paying attention. These tech companies Lied about a Viral Pandemic and monetized misinformation, amplified white supremacy, recruited kids to white supremacist sites. There was little or no monetization or propaganda value on leftist sites. They did it in 2016 too.

    We see dems playing patty-cake with the tech bros, while republicans rant about conservative bias. All of this a few days before and election. There will be more dissembling and obfuscation while the world burns, and the virus becomes endemic!

  3. There seems to be a lot more going on here than equal representations and voices. Our City government is well over 80% Hispanic. Our Mayor is white. Indigenous peoples are no where in the government or even the Santa Fe community.

    Hispanics (for the most part) own their homes outright (it might only be trailers on a small plot of land, but they are 100% paid off). Hispanics and immigrant Mexicans are the majority recipients of social services, such as state Medicare. Indigenous peoples receive the least in social services. It might be because of rules around sovereign nations, but regardless, they are denied or exempt from many social programs. They didn’t receive the government stimulus checks this summer.

    In my opinion, Indigenous voices should make up a minimum of 50% of participants on this committee.

    Hispanics are angry, and it’s because they are experiencing the financial realities of colonialism they’ve endured 100 years ago. Colonialism is slow motion breakdowns of peoples and cultures. Their blind loyalty to statues (which have nothing to do with their culture) and public spaces has to do with their declining power within their own land. Their anger spills over on how they steward New Mexico. There’s practically no wildlife left in New Mexico because they teach their kids to target practice on prairie dog colonies, hunt elk and deer regularly without permits, and illegally dump garbage and furniture in open spaces throughout the state rather than pay any disposal fees. They’re still governing this state like colonizers.

    The white communities in Santa Fe are elitist and segregate themselves from locals who may or may not hold equal wealth, or power, or religions. It’s beyond who’s who. It’s downright racist.

    This is deep stuff. How does one address racism, elitism, and anger in ones own community, when the community may not believe they have such issues? Because if whites and Hispanics don’t address these internal biases, then they will mirror it all back towards the Pueblo and Tewa peoples of New Mexico. It will fail and extreme riots and breakdowns will happen right here.

  4. Santa Fe is fortunate to have a diverse and experienced group of commissioners within the city’s Arts and Culture Department. I encourage the Mayor and City Councilors to look to them as knowledgeable advisors to the truth and reconciliation process, and hope that they will have a voice both in the formation and execution of the CHART decisions. These commissioners represent a broad cross section of the community and have a clear understanding of the cultural challenges. The decisions to be made will effect many pieces of art in the city and all of its residents.

  5. I was very struck by Lena’s observations. She did not hold back on the razor edge of truth.

    For 30 centuries, what amounts to human behavior, and probably long before, is habituated with tribalism. This reality, now as then, is terminally infected with dualism, a kind of amnesia about what being a living thing residing among an entire world of other living things actually feels like.

    Abstraction, as a mental behavior, is one strategy for creating some kind of distance between self and some perceived threat to that self. How this ever took hold as a dominant behavior is mystifying to me, since the behavior is now and has been a massive bleeding wound in humans, a causal agent in every type of hostility and chaos we can imagine.

    So when I read of ‘restorative’ justice, all I comprehend is a search for old bones in a fresh graveyard, or visa versa.

    The mayoral truth commission, as perceived, rings quite hollow and icy cold, an Aristotelian approach to a Socratic quandary. It slices and dices this ‘issue’ into neat compartments, as if it is Humpty Dumpty in one of his iterations of reconstruction, regardless of whether that reassembly is from Atilla, or Rome or Azteca or ‘murka. The notion reeks of imperialism, the mother of all colonialism.

    We can say ‘well, we have to do something’ about this trauma-drama before it explodes into yet another assassination of the Arch Duke of whomever/whenever/wherever. But the panel is fraught with the same cobwebs of ancient alliances that continue to tear us apart, which shows the insanity of the entire construct.

    I found Jeff’s segue into the present imperialism of social media giants more than revealing. These overlords of the artifacts of language, emperors of dramatic abstraction, are one and the same as the ‘parties’ to this commission, regardless of the pseudo balancing act of how many from which ‘side.’ The restoration will only result in yet another realignment of the Titanic’s deck chairs. Everyone is mated, in blood, to their own ancient wounds.

    My suggestion – let each and EVERY group, including the second invading group of Angle Saxons, all of whom have a grievance stake in this pissing contest, state their case in a neutral forum of complete strangers and disinterested parties, primarily composed of youth between the ages of 10 and 21, all from the African American culture. At least they have the benefit of inheriting their own group’s karma of persecution. Keep them totally anonymous.

    Let them decide how to handle what is left of this sordid romance with mutually assured destruction. All decisions are final. Shame should be the only winner.

    Then tear up the center of the plaza and plant a beautiful Tree of Heaven.

    • There aren’t enough trees on the plaza? Invasive trees at that…kinda like Santa Fe. I think there should be no monument, but rather mosaic-ed into the ground a Zia symbol, which creates needed room for the center plaza, and allows for a smaller musical and story telling setting. Benches should face into the center so elderly people can sit to listen to concerts or talks. They now make solar sidewalks which light up in any color, creating a fabulous evening effect, and saving energy.

      I do agree younger people should be included in consultations, as it will be their plaza sooner than later.


  1. NM State Legislators: This Is NOT a Time to Be Timid Plus a Link to our 2021 Legislative Survey, & Obelisk Santa Fe City Council Hearing. RAISE YOUR VOICE! – Retake Our Democracy

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