President Mike Fitts and Dean Ira Solomon
6823 St. Charles Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70118
July 15, 2020
*After reviewing this letter and further researching the history behind the paintings and the artists, Tulane University has agreed to removing the paintings.*
Dear President Fitts and Dean Solomon,
I come from the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians and a 2019 graduate of the full-time MBA program at the Freeman School of Business and I am writing to you today in regard to the depiction of Indigenous peoples on Tulane’s campus.
Although garnering little awareness, the multiplicity of issues facing Indigenous communities in the United States are profound and deeply concerning. With staggering health disparities, deep-seated economic disadvantages, towering incarceration rates, and severe underrepresentation in institutions of higher learning, Indigenous communities need serious attention and commitment, especially since many of the issues they face can be self-perpetuating if not properly addressed. Having experienced many of these harsh realities as an Indigenous person who comes from a small Tribe in Northern California, I attribute many of my accomplishments to the people and organizations that took the time and energy to invest in me.
As far as I am aware, I may be the first Indigenous person to attend the MBA program. While I am proud of this, being one of the “only” or the “few” comes with a heavy responsibility to educate on Indigenous issues, and advocate for change where needed. As the country reflects on its history and treatment of people of color, it is important that we look within and recognize the areas in which we can, and should, improve.
During my tenure in the program there were several issues that I faced as an Indigenous person, the most problematic of which was the inordinate display of stereotypical and dehumanizing paintings and images of Indigenous people. Three large paintings, hung in the hallways of the Goldring/Woldenberg Business Complex, depict Western stereotypical perspectives of Indigenous life, history, and culture.
The first image displays a fictionalized illustration of the claiming of Louisiana for France by La Salle. The image displays, what should be, Chitimacha, Houma, Choctaw, Natchez, or Tunica people gathered around La Salle, a priest, and a group of soldiers, as the French claim the land as their own. This image is a completely fictionalized event that inaccurately displays what the Indigenous people of the area looked like and wore. Furthermore, what the image does not show you is that the land, once populated by millions of Indigenous peoples, is now washed clean of any evidence of Indigenous people with fewer than 1% of the population of New Orleans being self-identified Indigenous people. This image is a devastating reminder to Indigenous people that the land they once thrived in is now unceded territory occupied mostly by non-Indigenous people.
The second image, “The Last of the Buffalo” painted by Albert Beirstadt depicts a group of nearly, if not completely, naked Indigenous people from the Plains region hunting a herd of Bison. This painting is not an accurate depiction of the ways in which Plains tribes traditionally hunted, and perpetuates the stereotype that Indigenous people were and are primitive and savage. While painted by a renowned artist, and displayed around the world, it was painted at a time when the bison population had been hunted to near extinction – declining from an estimated population of around 25 Million to 100 in the entirety of the continent. This was a result of the sanctioned, and actively endorsed, slaughter of Bison herds by the U.S. Government and the U.S Army in order to weaken, and gain power over, Indigenous people in the region by removing their main food source.
The final image is the most destructive and degrading of the trio. The painting entitled “A Dash for the Timber” is a depiction of the Apache Wars by Frederic Remington. The painting shows a group of White cowboys being chased by Apache men. This image is reminiscent of the stereotype of Cowboys vs. Indians. As usual, the Indigenous people are portrayed as the aggressors, when, in fact, the Apache people were defending their land, territory, and resources from encroaching White settlers looking to take over the land in order to raise livestock, farm, and mine minerals. Indigenous people were murdered, raped, and pillaged for no other reason than the fact they occupied resource rich lands and stood in the way of the rise of the American Empire. The more serious issue here is that Remington, a man who is considered one of the most iconic American painters of the 19th century, was an appalling racist that supported the genocide of Indigenous people and despised virtually every non-white group of people. He once wrote in a letter: “I’ve got some Winchesters, and when the massacring begins which you speak of, I can get my share of ’em and what’s more I will. Jews—injuns—Chinamen—Italians—Huns, the rubbish of the earth I hate.” An artist with such a despicable perspective and history does not belong in the halls of the Freeman School.
For generations, Indigenous people have lived in the shadows of stereotypical perceptions that reflect not how we see ourselves, but how the country has looked upon us since the arrival of White settlers. These images perpetuate stereotypes of Indigenous people as savage, primitive, and subhuman. These portrayals and depictions are deeply hurtful and harmful to the re-education of those who were improperly taught that Native people no longer exist.
As an Indigenous person, I felt completely disempowered, every day, by the presence of these paintings and they ought to be taken down and replaced with more inclusive and accurate imagery painted and created by local Indigenous artists.
In discussions with fellow students and alumni, we know there are other potentially problematic images displayed in the Freeman School and we would request a complete audit of the artwork the school displays and promotes.
In a recent message President Fitts, you stated: “But, as recent events have illuminated, we must do more. We cannot simply state that we are against racism; we must endeavor to be actively anti-racist. We must commit to making Tulane a more inclusive and supportive home for all.” The University and the Freeman School says it cares about racial equity, diversity, and inclusion, however, displaying colossal and inaccurate paintings of Indigenous people that portray us in a demeaning fashion does not model “actively anti-racist” behavior, and I would expect, given this statement, you would agree.
Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians
Freeman School MBA Class of 2019
Signed in support by nearly 200 Tulane students, alumni, and faculty.