Check out the big mural on the fifth floor, a friend told Myrna Mooney one day last August, shortly after Mooney and fellow employees of the Environmental Protection Agency moved into new headquarters in the Federal Triangle complex. A Native American from the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, Mooney was “flabbergasted” by what she saw:
Splashed across a 13-foot-wide canvas in the Ariel Rios Building was a graphic scene of Indians attacking and scalping white people. Called “Dangers of the Mail,” the 1930s-era painting included half a dozen naked white women being assaulted by Indians and an Indian stabbing a white man in the back.
“It portrays Indians as cowardly. It’s an insult,” said Mooney. “When you come from the reservation, these kinds of images make you physically ill.”
It looks like the painting is currently strategically hidden behind a bulletin board.
While I don’t think it is appropriate to have such racist images on the walls of government buildings, I also worry that simply removing such a painting will only sweep our racist past under the rug. A more creative solution might be to invite Native American artists to paint over the painting or submit other proposals for what to do with the space. Unfortunately, we do not seem to live in an era which encourages creative solutions to problems, so perhaps removing it entirely is more expedient.