Reading Jackson Clark’s defense of his gallery’s “Chief” sign, one can understand his perspective. There is no doubt that he and the Toh-Atin staff have a deep appreciation of Native American culture and treat their artists and customers with respect.
His bigger point is also well taken – that if people are concerned about the current condition of Native Americans, they ought to do more than just complain about a sheet-metal sign.
Still, we should be honest about “Chief.” He is a not-so-flattering caricature of a Native American, originally used by white business owners to sell pancakes to mostly white tourists, at a time when anyone looking like “Chief” would have been treated like a third-class citizen in many, if not most, Durango businesses.
Further evidence that “Chief” exemplified the casual racism of the time is the fact that early postcards showing the Chief restaurant and “Chief,” presumably given out as advertisements by the owners, claim the restaurant was all hand-painted by a “famous Colored Artist.” Think about that one for a moment.
Herbert D. BowmanDurango