It is hard to miss the controversy about the Toh-Atin Gallery’s “Chief” sign, which seems to have returned with a vengeance like a lot of other symbolic and concrete civil rights issues, such as statues.
We should have known it would be back. Perhaps we should have listened better before. Yet this is just how change occurs, albeit in extraordinary times when it can seem like everything is suddenly up for grabs, including a kitschy sign for a fine gallery.
The incongruity is striking. It could be the sign was not out of place beside the old diner, in the early 1960s, but because no one raised a concern then or was heard does not mean it was ever right to stereotype an entire Native American people for the sake of commerce in their captured backyards. We were just better before at pretending there was no insult intended.
But think now what it means to be a young Native American student who comes to Durango to pursue her dreams at Fort Lewis College, where there is no theoretical limit to what she can do beyond stereotypes – and then to go downtown and see that sign, pulling her back to the ground with a thud.
And for what? Is the gain anyone gets from the its continued presence in Durango equal to the hurt it causes? It does not even adequately represent the gallery, which is much better than that.
Perhaps that will occur now to the gallery owners’ better angels. We hope so.