Home / Politics / Rep. Deb Haaland spurs lawmakers to reconsider depictions of Natives in nation's Capitol

Rep. Deb Haaland spurs lawmakers to reconsider depictions of Natives in nation's Capitol

Spanish Mission painting in House wing of the Capitol.

One of the many offensive depictions of American Indians in the U.S. Capitol that Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico and the Laguna Pueblo and other lawmakers have decided need rethinking.

One of the oft-repeated expressions applied when things go sour thanks to reactionary politicians winning their campaigns is: “Elections have consequences.” Yes, they do. However obvious, it should be remembered that this cuts both ways. 

For instance, there’s the election last year of Rep. Deb Haaland, a longtime Democratic activist who is a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico. She has been showing what a difference it makes to have a progressive Native in office. She and Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids of the Ho-Chunk tribe are the first American Indian women to serve in Congress. Among other things, Haaland has been promoting policies relating to the plague of missing Native women and the violence directed against them, as well as expanding Bears Ears National Monument with its plethora of sacred Native places and artifacts. 

At Huffpost, Jennifer Bendery reports that Haaland has been successful in getting the Congressional Research Service to add an expert in American Indian Affairs to its staff. CRS writes reports at lawmakers’ request. 

Haaland was also instrumental in getting lawmakers to include explanatory language to a legislative branch spending bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee last week. This says there needs to be some rethinking about how Native peoples are depicted around the Capitol complex. The three paragraphs urge the architect of the Capitol to ponder the display of tribal and Pueblo flags, and to ensure that artwork and tours of the Capitol are accurate and respectful regarding indigenous Americans.

In a statement, Haaland said:

“The depictions of Native Americans throughout the Capitol complex and the U.S. Capitol Rotunda reinforce inaccurate and oftentimes racist stereotypes about Native Americans. So, I asked for a review of all the Native American artwork throughout to fully understand the extent that these images exist. After getting this report, I’ll work on ways to acknowledge how damaging imagery like this has been for Native communities in our country, and ways to make sure our community feels welcome in these buildings.”


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