Native advocacy, not abuse

I’m rarely provoked to the point of writing a letter to the editor and this may be “old news,” but I was upset to see the circulating cartoon targeting the Toh-Atin owners, and felt compelled to write. 

I’ve been aware of the Clark family’s appreciation and valuation of Native American art and culture since I first  moved to Durango. To insinuate they “abuse indigenous culture” feels like a very unjust mischaracterization. If I were an unknowing reader, I probably would’ve (I’m sad to admit) developed an opinion about the owners and avoided their business. Then I would’ve told others about it! This would be very undeserved, and I suspect would hurt the Native American artisans who rely on doing business there. 

Conversations about “The Chief” aside, I think it would be fair for the everyday reader to know the following about the Clark family:

• They have loaned money for art supplies and wool to their artists (hauled three trailers and a dump truck full of split wood to weavers and their families) and in spite of reduced sales as a result of COVID, have continued buying from all their regular artisans.

• They have paid for a tragic number of COVID-19 related funerals for Native families.

• They partner with Native nonprofits to organize clothing drives, food drives and donations to Navajo people. 

• They solicited over $40,000 in donations to support Native nonprofits and charities in 2020 alone.

Also, they’ve talked to literally hundreds of Native artists, from numerous tribes, to get feedback about The Chief and acknowledge they have received great ideas. 

That said, knowing the Clarks are pursuing conversations (with City Council and with present and past leaders of the Southern Ute tribe, Navajos, Hopis, Pueblos and others to review replacement art) and looking for creative solutions, it should be noted that the time and effort this replacement will take is time and effort the Clarks are currently putting into helping the Native people, who have been dying on the Navajo Reservation at a high rate. 

I mean, are we missing the forest for the trees here? If this was some Jim Crow Era-Esque statue that was erected to instill fear in and claim power over, indigenous people, then torch it! But it wasn’t. Its purpose was to inform passerby as to where they could find the art gallery. Now, if the presence of The Chief causes harm, then that deserves respect, discussion and considerate action … but this is bullying. Might that energy be better directed at some actual hateful racism, so the Clarks can put their energy back into what looks a lot more like advocacy to me than “abuse?”

– Caitlin Cannon, Nashville