Gov. Kathy Hochul inserted herself into a culture clash Tuesday, saying she’s considering banishing artwork of Native Americans in the state Capitol building that is deemed offensive to tribal people.
Hochul’s push to remove negative depictions of Native Americans in artwork comes amid the ongoing campaign to remove statues of explorer Christopher Columbus from the public square or government buildings over his treatment of indigenous people.
New York education officials in 2022 ordered school districts to ditch Native American mascots deemed racist.
There’s a big bust of Columbus — a revered figure among many Italian Americans — chiseled into the “Million Dollar Staircase” in the Capitol Building.
“All New Yorkers should feel welcome and respected when visiting the State Capitol. Unfortunately, offensive imagery and distasteful representations of populations in the art which adorns the Capitol can alienate visitors,” Hochul said in her 180-page 2024 State of the State policy book.
“Indigenous peoples, in particular, are often depicted in artworks in a manner that reflects harmful racial stereotypes and glorifies violence against Indigenous peoples. Such depictions do not reflect the values of New York State,” the governor said.
Albany insiders said New York’s Native American activists have complained about murals in the governor’s reception room — also known as the “War Room” — that adorn the ceiling on the second floor.
The mural depicts New York’s early battles, the Five Nations of the Iroquois, and former President and Gov. Theodore Roosevelt.
There is a series of frames depicting indigenous Americans in a battle with Samuel de Champlain and the French during the 1600s, including one where a Native American is standing over a comrade who has been killed.
Underneath another frame of a colonizer fighting a tribesman is the statement, “Champlain Killing First Indian.”
Hochul said the “offensive artistic representations of Indigenous peoples” are informed by “precedent more than eighty years old” and it’s time for a reassessment.
“To ensure that all New Yorkers are welcomed in the Capitol, this year Governor Hochul will commence a comprehensive review of artistic representation of Indigenous peoples in the Capitol, with invited participation from representatives from each of the nine Indigenous Nations,” according to the State of the State book.
Tribal activists praised Hochul for tackling the negative portrayals of Native Americans.
JC Seneca, a counselor with the Seneca Nation, said he was disgusted after seeing the panel boasting that Champlain killed the first tribesman.
“It’s braggadocious about killing my people. They killed a lot of our people and stole a lot of our land,” Seneca said.
“We’re still fighting for our sovereignty,” he added.
Seneca also said Columbus shouldn’t get a pass.
“Columbus did a lot of rape and pillaging. They need to think about his presence in the state Capitol,” he said.
“The governor is taking a step in the right direction. Removal of these negative portrayals has been part of discussions for many years,” he added.
Hochul’s office said her review is focused on portrayals of Native Americans.