Chief has no place in 2021

I had a riveting conversation with Jackson Clark, co-owner of Toh-Atin Gallery, the other day about where he stands on taking down the “Chief,” which so many Native people find offensive and damaging. 

After telling me all about how much good he and his family continue to do for the Native community, he said, “If someone can give me a good enough reason why the statue is racist, then I’m open to hearing that, but no one has been able to do that.” 

The thing is, it’s 1,000 percent not the place of a non-Native person to decide what a Native person considers to be racist or offensive. If a Native person says that the sign is racist and offensive – and many have – then it is. Period. 

There are many contemporary Native artists and sculptors who would likely be delighted to contribute a less problematic and more representative work of art for the prominent corner. It’s also entirely possible to create a community fundraising initiative to compensate the artist. There are possibilities, the owners just won’t hear them. 

The predominantly white colony of Durango was built upon stolen Native land. That’s not just a trendy slogan ... it’s real life and an ugly history. The Native residents of the area haven’t gone anywhere. They never left. Fort Lewis College (once an Indian boarding school) now enrolls an average of 1,100 Native students from 160+ tribal nations. What message does the “Chief” send to those young people making their way in this college town in the year 2021? 

The owners of Toh-Atin Gallery have options and can make this right. Yet they keep the statue in place. In the same breath in my conversation with Clark, he said, “This statue has been here in Durango since the 1950s. It’s time to let go of the past and move forward.”

Errrr … yep. That’s exactly the point, sir.

Many Native people believe that the caricature is degrading and offensive, that it reinforces stereotypes about indigenous people and that it serves as a symbol of systemic racism. So yes, you are absolutely correct ... it’s time let go of the past, move forward and take down that sign. 


– Jaime Nicole Becktel, Mancos