January 15, 2008

Newspapers tried to tarnish West

Suzan Shown Harjo:  On Rick West, Kevin Gover and NMAIThe ICT/WashPost stories were perceptibly generated by the same vengeful impulse behind the extra-legal leaking and posting of NMAI travel documents with West’s private identification numbers. Only the interest of trolling identity thieves could possibly have been served by this.

These leakers weren’t doing anything admirable. A genuine whistleblower who thought something was wrong would have sounded an alarm when something could have been done to stop the perceived wrongdoing. Instead, these wags waited until West had left the building and splashed mud on his legacy, just as their tantrum had spoiled a gracious welcome for Gover.

The WashPost editorialized that there “were no laws broken here and no attempts at deception.” Then what, pray tell, is the point? West has been vilified for living within the law and not deceiving, while the leakers are getting away with both illegalities and deceptions.
Stereotypes in the Post's reporting:The WashPost was simply had. But in the midst of its ledger book reporting, its Dec. 28 article and Jan. 7 editorial contained some surprisingly uninformed and stereotypical statements: “West’s travel often took him far from American Indian culture” and “Much of his travel--to Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice, Vienna, Sydney, Seville, Athens, New Zealand and other swank destinations whose enthrallment with Native American culture had until now gone unremarked….”

There was a time when American Indian people were confined to reservations, but that practice ended in the mid-1930s. Since then, we’ve traveled to Kansas City and Santa Fe and all sorts of sophisticated places. Actually, Indians have been traveling to Europe since Cristobal Colon took prisoners in chains back with him, and shiploads of our art and jewelry from our ancestors’ homes, bodies and graves are in museums and private collections worldwide.

I tried to inform one of the WashPost reporters about today’s global trafficking in Native human remains and sacred objects, and the educational work about repatriation that West undertook in many of these museums and countries. The reporter rudely challenged me to name such museums in Europe, saying, “I bet you can’t name one.” The Branly, Louvre, Vatican, British Museum-–look in Portugal, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands-–throw a dart at a map of Germany and you’ll hit a collection with our stuff. He was so not interested.

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