Editorial: Vail cancels a Lakota artist for her Palestinian sympathies, chilling her speech

Estimated read time 4 min read

The Town of Vail attempted to cancel Danielle SeeWalker but public officials only managed to amplify the Denver-based artist’s voice and work.

SeeWalker was invited to be the artist in residency for two weeks in the Town of Vail as part of the city’s Art in Public Places program. She was set to engage with the community, students and other artists, creating a public mural at the conclusion of her summer residency.

Instead, Vail abruptly canceled her residency, issuing a statement online that didn’t even attempt to disguise their motives: “While the Town of Vail embraces her messaging and artwork surrounding Native Americans, in recent weeks her art and her public messaging has focused on the Israel/Gaza crisis.”

In short, leaders in Vail were OK with SeeWalker’s activism through art until they disagreed with the message.

The message was one of empathy for Palestinians in Gaza who are being indiscriminately killed by Israeli Defense Forces, casualties of a brutal war sparked by Hamas’ terrorist attack on Oct. 7.

SeeWalker has produced one image expressing her support for Palestinians. “G is for Genocide” depicts a woman looking out at the audience through a single eye wearing a black and white keffiyeh, which has become a symbol of the opposition to Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and other occupied territories. By including the image in a series of similarly styled works depicting the many plights of Native American women, SeeWalker told The Denver Post she was expressing sympathy for the Palestinians and support for the Free Palestine movement.

“I don’t regret putting that piece out there,” SeeWalker said. “The most shocking part is that we couldn’t even have a conversation about it … the feedback from the Jewish community has been that they feel I’m aligning myself with Hamas and that’s just not at all close to any kind of truth.”

SeeWalker, a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, said she sees many parallels to the genocide faced by the Jews and the killing of her own ancestors in America. She said both people faced massacres and also a cultural genocide. But she also sees parallels with those histories and the plight of the Palestinians.

Palestinians have been displaced across the Middle East, residing in refugee camps not just in Gaza and the West Bank, but in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.  Even those who support the creation and protection of Israel – as we do – can see the unjust similarities between these camps and the American reservations.

SeeWalker’s work has always presented the perspective of Native Americans and she has never shied away from controversy and opinion. We’ve seen no evidence in her social media posts or her art of anti-semitism and SeeWalker said she genuinely wants to have a conversation with the Jewish community about her work.

The Town of Vail’s decision to cancel SeeWalker over her sympathy for Palestinians – expressed in a single work of art — is egregious.

Vail officials would be wise to invite SeeWalker back with an apology and a commitment to upholding their own stated goals in the future. The mission of Art in Public Places cannot be “to create a diverse and meaningful public art experience in Vail” if it silences artists at the first hint of controversy and is not open to hearing alternative perspectives.

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