Accused of ‘Ethnocide,’ County Fair Votes Against Native-American-Inspired Story Pole

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By Jillian Kay Melchior | 2:56 pm, May 3, 2017

After Native Americans raised concerns about cultural appropriation, the Oregon County Fair has announced it will no longer erect a so-called “Story Pole,” a totem-like community art project that has been under construction for the past five years.

The story pole began as an art project by the Ritz Sauna & Showers and the Flamingo Clan, an Oregon collective of artists and craftsmen. On Indiegogo, the project raised more than $20,000, and over the past four years, local carvers, painters and other artists have worked together to craft the 36-foot pole.

The pole was supposed to be raised on July 2, but it has faced increasingly vocal opposition from Native American groups. They say that such a pole is not part of local tribal culture. Moreover, they say, local Native Americans should perform the work on any project referencing Native American art and culture.

“We do not support the ‘Native American inspired art’ concept that commits ethnocide by reducing an ancient cultural tradition to an item to profit from. … We have no interest or desire to take part in subtle colonial genocidal practices like ethnocide,” wrote two activists in a recent letter to the Oregon County Fair.

Cultural anthropologist David Lewis, who is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, told the fair that the pole was “a representation of white privilege.” And a member of the Siletz tribe denounced it as an “abomination,” according to the Willamette Week.

After weighing Native Americans’ concerns about cultural appropriation, the Oregon County Fair board voted last summer to raise the pole anyway. But at a second vote, held this week, the board unanimously decided not to put the pole up after all.

“The Board of Directors offers a apology for the distress our actions regarding the story pole have caused to Native American Peoples and members of our family who have been affected by this process,” the Oregon County Fair said in a statement.

In a February statement, the group behind the story pole defended the project, saying it was a non-profit effort that incorporated local and multi-cultural imagery.
“The work was done with respect, recognition and appreciation for the cultures that inspired it. … We recognize and support the need to increase diversity at [the fair]. However, the censorship of art is not in the best interest of diversity or for the Oregon County Fair Family,” the group said in a statement posted to Facebook.