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Vail cancels Indigenous artist’s mural following resident’s complaint

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“G is for Genocide” by Danielle SeeWalker.
Photo courtesy Danielle SeeWalker

VAIL, Colo. — Nearly a month before Danielle SeeWalker was slated to paint a mural in Vail, Vail town staff told her that a social media post featuring a one of her paintings that compared the violence in Gaza to genocide of Native Americans was “too polarizing.”

SeeWalker — a Denver-based artist and writer, and member of the Lakota tribe — was approached by town staff in January and asked to participate in their “Art in Public Places” residency program.

SeeWalker was also asked to give a talk in a town symposium about Native American art and history.

But on Thursday morning, SeeWalker was told her social media posts highlighting the violence in Gaza were “too political,” and upsetting to the town’s Jewish community.

SeeWalker said the posts never mentioned Judaism, but instead highlighted Israeli violence against Gazans.

“I have Jewish friends, I know the history of what Jewish people went through and I would think, of all populations, what I’m trying to convey as a Native American would also resonate with the Jewish community,” SeeWalker said.

“This has nothing to do with Jewish people. It’s really just about genocide and how people can’t just live as who they are and be OK and safe being who they are,” she said.

In an interview with Rocky Mountain PBS, Vail town manager Russell Forrest said the town “welcomes (SeeWalker’s) messaging around Native Americans,” but that “this specific messaging around this geopolitical crisis was just too polarizing.”

“This specific issue is an incredibly polarizing issue and investing public dollars in art where this could be part of the messaging is not appropriate,” Forrest said. “We’re not trying to, in any way, suppress her communication, but we have a responsibility with public art that does not engage or jump into such a polarizing issue.”

SeeWalker was slated to paint the Vail mural in June and had not yet approved a painting.

In a written statement, deputy town manager Kathleen Halloran wrote that SeeWalker never submitted a draft for her plan, so the town did not get the chance to discuss the mural before a town resident saw SeeWalker’s social media account and raised their concerns.

“We’re an inclusive community and everything about us is about being inclusive," Forrest said. "Doing something that polarizes a component of the country, the world or our community just wasn’t deemed appropriate.”

SeeWalker’s artwork is currently featured in a History Colorado exhibit titled “But We Have Something to Say.” According to the museum, SeeWalker’s art “comments on the intersections of historical Native American society and modern culture.”

“SeeWalker spins her work into a contemporary vision that elevates her community and their often dismissed or silenced histories,” History Colorado noted.

When Vail town staff first approached SeeWalker, she said she was hesitant to participate because of the town’s wealthy, white reputation.

After considering it further, SeeWalker felt her participation could spark valuable discussion about violence against Native Americans in Colorado. 

SeeWalker also felt the mural would bring conversations around Palestinians in Gaza facing famine and bombs from the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. 

“It was drawing parallels between my ancestors who faced genocide and those in Gaza, how their land is being taken and they’re being killed,” SeeWalker said. “It was an expression piece I did for the purpose of drawing those connections.”

SeeWalker said she saw the opportunity as “educational,” for a community who she believed rarely hears from Indigenous people.

“Now, I’m looking at this as an opportunity for me to continue to be vocal against white supremacy and how ridiculous this is,” SeeWalker said.

About 31,000 people have died in Gaza since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants attacked Israel and killed approximately 1,200 people and took hundreds hostage. About 4 million people died in what historians called “the Indigenous Holocaust” of the Americas.

Alison Berg is a reporter at Rocky Mountain PBS.

Note: Rocky Mountain PBS contracted Danielle SeeWalker for artwork for our documentary "Colorado Voices: A New Chapter." She was also featured in "Colorado Experience: Return of the Buffalo," but that was not a paid appearance.

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