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Dallin trustee notes sculptor's connection to Native issues

Sarah Burks, a member of the town-appointed board of the Dallin Art Museum, presented this statement to the Select Board on Jan. 25, 2021, addressing the Indigenous Peoples Resolution submitted by the Arlington Human Rights Commission:
Dallin logo

Good evening. My name is Sarah Burks. I’m appearing before you this evening as a representative of the Board of Trustees of the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum. The trustees support agenda item 13, the Arlington Human Rights Commission’s resolution in recognition of Indigenous people in our community and we support the designation of the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day.

Cyrus Dallin was born and raised in Utah before moving here to pursue his artistic education. He witnessed Indigenous people in Utah dispossessed of their land and exploited by the U.S. government. This knowledge affected both his art and his activism. Throughout his life, he actively listened to and learned from Indigenous people.

In 1931, he told a group of white Boston University students, "Our race has been one of the most brutal of any in establishing itself, and the great story of the United States will always rest on the blackest page of history." 

Last summer and fall the Trustees spent many hours discussing social justice issues in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. We formed a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) subcommittee to develop new organizational goals and a formal statement for the museum. We have actively been pursuing a number of initiatives including partnering with the Massachusett Tribe on a land acknowledgement statement for the museum. In October we collaborated with the Arlington Human Rights Commission on a panel discussion about Native American imagery in society. And, we are embarking on a “Learning Journey” during which we will engage in conversations with BIPOC artists, curators, and cultural leaders to develop a better understanding of DE&I issues as they relate to museums.

Dallin valued knowledge, empathy, collaboration, and equity. These values are important to the Dallin Museum and to our community. Dallin died 76 years ago, but sadly many of the systems of oppression that he spoke out against still persist today. The Board of Trustees is proud to speak in support of this proposal as a very small way that we can recognize the perspectives and rights of contemporary Indigenous people seeking recognition and equity in our community.

When Faries Gray, Sagamore of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag, spoke at a program about the Indigenous People of Menotomy, he was asked what the Arlington community could do to support the Massachusett Tribe and he replied that we could stop celebrating Columbus Day. It’s really that important!  Thank you for your time and attention to this issue.

This statement was published Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. 

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