Pueblo revolutionary honored in Washington
by: Brenda Norrell / Indian Country TodayClick to Enlarge
WASHINGTON - The statue of Po'pay, the medicine man who led the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, was installed in the National Statuary Hall, offering a lasting testament in the nation's capitol of the revolution that preserved the Pueblos' land and people.
Benny Shendo, New Mexico's secretary for Indian Affairs, joined the governors of the 19 New Mexico Pueblos and congressional leaders to honor Po'pay at the installation ceremony on Sept. 22.
''It was a revolt that helped shape the evolution and character of an entire region of our country, and it led to the survival of a culture rich in history and heritage that would one day co-exist with modern American life,'' said Shendo, speaking on behalf of Gov. Bill Richardson, who was unable to attend the ceremony.
The statue of Po'pay in the Statuary Hall is now among those of Americans chosen by the states as their most notable citizens. The tribute to Po'pay completes the 100 statues in the Capitol's collection, with each state represented by two of its notable citizens.
Of all the historical figures honored, Po'pay was the earliest born in this land now known as the United States. The statue of Po'pay is the only sculpture to be created by an American Indian sculptor, Jemez Pueblo artist Cliff Fragua.
Representing Oklahoma, Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee alphabet, was the first American Indian to be honored at the National Statuary Hall in 1917. Oklahoma also chose Will Rogers, of Cherokee descent, as its second notable person.
Nevada selected Sarah Winnemucca, the Paiute educator and audacious speaker on Indian rights and women's rights, who was born in 1844. Sakakawea honors North Dakota; Chief Washakie is honored for his statesmanship by the state of Wyoming; and King Kamehameha I represents Hawaii.
It took nearly three decades of struggle for Po'pay to be selected and his statue installed.
Herman Agoyo, former governor of San Juan Pueblo, is among the Pueblos whose persistence drove the project forward. Pueblo leaders pressed for passage of the bill by the New Mexico state Legislature in 1997 and raised funds to secure completion of the project.
Agoyo and Joe Sando, Jemez Pueblo, tell the story of Po'pay in the new book ''Po'pay: Leader of the First American Revolution,'' published by Clearlight Publishing.
In the book, released at the time of the installation, a collective of Pueblo authors tell of the conditions of Spanish rule and the coordinated revolt that drove the Spanish from New Mexico in 1680. The revolt ended the persecutions of the Pueblo people, preserving their culture, land and religious freedom.
Cliff Fragua described his seven-foot sculpture fashioned from Tennessee marble.
''In my rendition, he holds in his hands items that will determine the future existence of the Pueblo people.''
The knotted cord in his left hand determined when the revolt would begin; the bear fetish in his right hand symbolizes the center of the Pueblo world, the Pueblo religion; the pot behind him symbolizes the Pueblo culture; the deerskin he wears is a humble symbol of his status as a provider, he said.
''The necklace that he wears is a constant reminder of where life began, and his clothing consists of a loincloth and moccasins in Pueblo fashion. His hair is cut in Pueblo tradition and bound in a chongo.
''On his back are the scars that remain from the whipping he received for his participation and faith in the Pueblo ceremonies and religion.''
The statue of Po'pay now joins the statues of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson in the hall.
San Juan Pueblo's Ohkay Owingeh Dance Group performed during the installation ceremony, attended by Hopi and Isleta del Sur (Tigua) tribal members, whose ancestors participated in the Pueblo revolt.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke at the installation ceremony and honored Po'pay.
''Po'pay was a spiritual man. The Pueblo are a spiritual people. The Pueblo have a prayer which translates as follows: 'Hold on to what is good, even if it is a handful of earth; Hold on to what you believe, even if it is a tree that stands by itself; Hold on to what you must do, even if it is a long way from here; Hold on to my hand, even if someday I'll be gone away from you.'''
Pelosi said, ''By holding on to the memory of Po'pay, America's first revolutionary, and the memories of the other great men and women enshrined here, we remind ourselves that our nation has been profoundly shaped by individual acts of innovation, defiance, courage, and revolution. And we also celebrate the better America these acts have helped define.''