I am prompted to write in response to my friend, Jackson Clark, and the “Chief” sign by Toh-Atin Gallery; and by President Trump’s executive order to implement the federal law I wrote, The Veterans Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003.
When I wrote that law, I was thinking of the artists’ First Amendment rights to self-expression and the question of whether a painting or statue should be authorized or erected on public land when this year’s hero might be next year’s villain, based on opinions that are sometimes driven by raw emotion rather than common sense.
My own view of historic figures who are commonly glorified, such as Christopher Columbus, Andrew Jackson and Kit Carson, is that they are seen much differently by most Native people. According to the Smithsonian Institution, Native people in the Americas were decreased through war and disease from 17 to 20 million people in 1492 to 200,000 by 1900. Is it any wonder some Native people are touchy?
Just this week, Trump announced the implementation and enforcement of my original bill to protect works of art and memorials on public land. Violence is the wrong way to rectify other wrongs. Remember the teaching of Dr. Martin Luther King. The Korean War Memorial, which was also authorized by me, was vandalized. As a Korean War veteran, that really hurt. I lost friends in that war.
The “Chief” statue is privately owned and on private property. The Clark family was one of the first families my wife, Linda, and I met when we moved here from California and they have been our friends ever since. They are loved and trusted by hundreds of Native people. There may be differences of opinion on the “Chief,” but surely we can agree that vandalism is not the American way to make change.
How are we going to change for the better if we only recognize a sanitized past and do not reflect on the national injustices that happened?
Ben Nighthorse CampbellIgnacio