The City of Santa Monica is hoping to undo a historical mistake by potentially tearing down 1930s murals which some believe portray Indigenous people in a negative light. But Native Americans whose roots to the LA basin go back thousands of years say taking down the “inaccurate” murals does not go far enough.
The murals, located by the Santa Monica City Hall entrance, show two Native Americans kneeling by a spring, the city's first source of water, while a Catholic monk and a Spanish conquistador are standing across from them.
“It gives the viewer the wrong idea of what our people were really like,” says Andrew Salas, the tribal chairman of the Gabrielino band of Indians Kizh Nation. “These Spanish settlers were the ones that came … with hunger and thirst, they should be on their knees and drinking from the spring.”
While the Santa Monica City Council is considering installing a cover over the murals, Salas says if the city wishes to correct the wrong, it should install brand-new murals that depict respected Native American figures, such as Toypuria, who led a rebellion against the Spanish and the mission system in the 1700s. “We had heroes here. We need to recognize them,” says Salas.
The murals were painted by modern artist Stanton Macdonald-Wright, who was well known in the 1930s. Some argue that the murals have artistic merit, despite their inaccuracy. But Kizh Nation’s leader says the city should do away with the murals.
“They romanticize about California, and it didn't happen like you see it there. We help these Spanish Europeans survive here. And they took our kindness for weakness.”
For Indigenous people like Salas, the murals represent a bigger issue. They are just a glimpse into how many Californians are not aware of the accurate history and the oppression of Native people.
“Where's our history told? Everywhere you read about us — we're extinct. But we're not like the mammoth. We're not extinct. We're still here. These types of paintings give the wrong idea of our history. They try to erase us and to forget us. We're still here, we need to be able to tell our history.”