After meeting with several Native Americans who live on the Wind River Reservation, Jackson Mayor Pete Muldoon condemned the use of “redface” to depict Native Americans in Jackson’s annual Old West Days parade.
On Friday, before the mayor’s statement, the Bar T 5 Covered Wagon Cookout, which used non-Native Americans in costumes with red face paint and black wigs in the parade, released a statement saying it would no longer use actors to portray Native Americans.
Muldoon told the Town Council at its regular Monday meeting that “our Native American neighbors are telling us these depictions are harmful and that they are offensive, and we should believe them.
“I am not going to attempt to explain the ways in which these depictions and manufactured histories are hurtful and harmful to the survivors, people who struggle daily not only with the aftermath of genocide, but with the realities of being marginalized, ignored and treated as caricatures rather than human beings,” Muldoon said. “This is a story that they should tell us, and one which we should listen to. In fact, it has been told countless times and ignored just as many. It’s a story we can choose to listen to the moment we are ready and, yet, often we do not.”
Muldoon said he is convinced “participants intended no malice,” and recognizing this is important moving forward as a community.
In Friday’s statement Bar T 5 co-owner Jeff Warburton said the 45-year practice was meant to “honor the story of friendship between Nick Wilson and Chief Washakie.”
“In a continued spirit of friendship to all, we will not be honoring that story using live actors portraying Native Americans any more,” according to the Bar T 5 statement. “We apologize to anyone who has chosen to take offense. It has never been our intention to offend or belittle anyone.”
How Native American stories and history are portrayed is a problem that extends beyond Jackson, Muldoon said.
“Our country is watching us. The world’s watching us. We welcome visitors here from all four corners of the globe, and what we do in Jackson matters,” Muldoon said. “But, most importantly, our Native American friends and neighbors are watching us and wondering if this will be the time that we listen to them when they tell us we’re hurting them.”
Melanie Schuerch, a Jackson resident and Alaskan Native who made the original complaint about the parade to the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, said she was pleasantly surprised to see Muldoon’s response to the controversy.
“I was expecting people not to take this seriously and to sweep this under the rug,” Schuerch said. “He addressed the situation and the concerns that Native Americans have. I think it’s important for the community to hear that coming from someone in a leadership position.
“This is a step towards change for the better,” Schuerch said.