Tepee art pulled after Native American students complain

  • Art students at Santa Barbara Community College built a tepee, which Native American students at the school considered cultural appropriation.
  • The charge to remove the tepee came from students Eric Heras and Laina Godinez.

A wooden tepee built as a school project was taken down after Native American students at Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) complained that it made a mockery out of their culture.

The project, made from reclaimed wood, was erected on SBCC’s campus on March 4, but Native American students complained on social media and to the administration that it was a form of cultural appropriation—a social theory in which a dominant culture adapts certain aspects of a different culture, creating the perception that the new culture is the authentic form.

"Having our culture used for playtime and dress up places an image of a fairytale fantasy, which results in believing Natives cease to exist."   

“As a Native American, I'm appalled by the insensitiveness by this crude display,” Angel Solorzano wrote in a post on the college’s Facebook page. “A Teepee is something that belongs to Native American heritage. I do not condone this as something artistic, but a mockery of my culture.”

According to the Santa Barbara Independent, Eric Heras, a SBCC student, contacted the American Indian Movement (AIM) which in turn told the college’s administration to take the art down.

“The acceptance of this ‘art piece’ is a mockery of my people,” student Laina Godinez told Native News Online. “By allowing this its [sic] making it okay for anyone, anywhere to exploit my culture, tradition, and me for their benefit. With no consequences it allows more generations to continue this bad habit.”

Godinez and Heras, led the charge to have the art project removed. Ultimately, the art students agreed to take down the project.

“Having our culture used for playtime and dress up places an image of a fairytale fantasy, which results in believing Natives cease to exist,” she said.

Art Department Chair Joy Kunz defended the project, stating the art students did not intend to mock Native Americans.

“It’s not like they’re accomplished, professional artists making art to make a public statement,” Kunz told the Santa Barbara Independent. “They are a class.”

After hearing word of the complaints, Lori Gaskin, Santa Barbara City College’s president, convened a meeting with art students and Native American representatives. According to the Independent, the Native American representatives alleged the college is originally a Native American burial ground.

Gaskin also sent a campus-wide e-mail apologizing to the Native American community but also defended the art students, claiming that they did not have negative intentions.

“I apologize to all who may have found the installation disrespectful of the Native American culture,” Gaskin said in the email, obtained by Native News Online. “I can assure you, such an intent never entered the minds of these art students or their professor.”

The Independent reports that the tepee was taken down by art and Native American students two days earlier than originally planned.

English professor Celeste Barber was saddened since she planned to take her grandson there and teach him about Native American culture.

“For me, this goes to the heart of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” Barber stated in internal e-mails to staff.

According to the Independent, Barber compared the incident to UCI students who attempted to ban the American flag and the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine earlier this year.

“Where is it going to end?” she lamented.

Santa Barbara City College will host a forum to discuss issues of cultural sensitivity on April 7, in the college’s Garvin Theatre.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @gabnadales

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