Much debate occurred throughout 2020 surrounding a cartoonish statue known as “The Chief” in downtown Durango. Tall enough to be visible from several blocks around, this depiction of a Native American is owned by a gallery specializing in Native American art. The gallery inherited the statue from a Native American themed diner that closed in 1981.
Trennie Collins is a member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, and a journalist with the Southern Ute Drum. In her film, Trennie interviews Daisy Bluestar, a Southern Ute tribal member who shares perspective on how the mockery of a Native person displayed so prominently in Durango is harmful to Native people as it contributes to perceptions that Native people are not alive and living in this community, but rather that they are gone altogether, eliminated by genocide. The caricature is also a painful souvenir of the conquest of Native lands and the attempted erasure of authentic and diverse Native culture. “The chief in front of that gallery is a reminder of everything that was painful, everything that was taken from us,” says Daisy Bluestar.
Southern Ute Reservation lands span across three Colorado counties: La Plata, Archuleta, and Montezuma—but historically Durango and much of the surrounding area was all Ute land. “That was the heart of the Ute people,” Bluestar says.
Trennie’s submission includes footage of passionate speeches captured during an Indigenous Peoples' Day protest in Durango. Signs carried in Durango’s demonstration included the messages of “Land Back.” Watch Trennie’s submission and, if you have a perspective on mascots or monuments, we invite you to join the conversation by emailing email@example.com – or, for those who are Native or Indigenous, please submit a video to Native Lens.
Removal of statues tied to conquest, colonization, and racial violence has been a growing movement around the country with no signs of slowing down. In Denver, a recently toppled monument to a Civil War soldier at Colorado’s State Capitol building will be replaced with a statue of a Native American woman in commemoration of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre.
In Santa Fe, a monument that was erected in 1866 in the center of the Plaza has been known as the “Soldiers’ Monument” and commemorated “heroes” who died in battles with “savage Indians.” Six protestors in Santa Fe have been arrested for their role in forcibly removing the obelisk on Indigenous Peoples' Day.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell was quoted by The Colorado Sun as saying that removal of the statue “...should be done through enlightened dialogue and not through mob rule.” He joins other community leaders, both Native and non-Native, who feel that conversation around removal of the Santa Fe statue is necessary – and could be productive. Discussion could lead to greater awareness of the region’s history as well as a consensus to update a relic of the Old West with something new – something that honors Ute history.
Colorado Sun: A cartoonish Native American towering over Durango has divided the city. Should “The Chief” stay or go?
Durango Herald:Ernest House and Tom Stritikus: Caricatures of Natives do not fit within our values
Rocky Mountain PBS:156 years later, Colorado remembers the Sand Creek Massacre
Colorado Experience: The Sand Creek Massacre