The Chief and white fragility

The letters to the editor in opposition to Kayla Shaggy’s cartoon regarding the racist Chief statue in Durango are clear examples of white fragility. These letters are defensive because the cartoon challenges white people’s power and oppression over people of color – in this case, Indigenous people. It also seeks validation as opposed to being able to sit with the discomfort of the real problem: the fact that supporting a racist statue and white people appropriating artifacts is stealing.

The owners (who already hold power and privilege) do not need “praise” for some small gesture toward Native American communities to ease their own white guilt. If not ALL of the proceeds are going back to Native American communities, then it’s cultural exploitation. Furthermore, they are on stolen land, we all are.

Would black face on white property be OK? No. I have seen a lot of questions about what constitutes cultural appropriation. Here are some questions to ask: What are the intentions of people outside of that culture to use this material? What is the impact on people within the culture in question to use and steal the artifacts?

The Chief represents harmful and violent stereotypes and ideologies that people hold about Indigenous people. These images are harmful because they dehumanize and depersonalize all the wisdom, creativity, worth,and value of Native American people as a whole. Continued stereotyping, whether thought of as positive or negative, is harmful because it continues the justification of power over, which leads to denying opportunities for groups of people. It also can cause significant psychological harm and leads to internalized ideas about the self.

The Toh-Atin Gallery and the statue represents all the genocide, broken treaties/promises and continued exploitation of Native Americans. You need to understand that if you are not listening to forcibly oppressed communities and actively making efforts to make retribution from centuries of harm, then you are part of the problem. Kayla Shaggy’s cartoon represents the reality of the situation. Stop making this about you. It’s about Native American communities. Those are the voices that need to be centered in these conversations. 

– Jennifer Stucka-Benally, Durango