Days after putting up a billboard, the city of Bend agreed to take it down. City officials chose the image to advertise an online survey about transportation priorities, but some people got a very different message.
The billboard shows a covered wagon drawn by a white horse.
“Traveling East to West still tough?” it asks – a reference to white settlers moving into the American West.
At this week’s city council meeting, several people showed up to explain why they found the imagery offensive.
Sareli Beltrán said ad campaigns like this one “remind communities like mine of how naive, ignorant, and oblivious the dominant culture of this city remains. And how equity is just a performance in government spaces.”
“The fact that November is Native American history month makes this campaign theme more charged,” Beltrán added.
Joanne Mina told the council: “When we tell a history that is incomplete we are lying to ourselves.”
Mina used her 90 seconds at the podium, the time allowed for each public commenter, to drop a brief, but dense history of how 19th century laws gave property to those white settlers arriving in covered wagons, while dispossessing Native Americans.
“Why do I say all this? Because wounds cannot heal if the wounding keeps happening. And it’s not city council, it’s not our city manager, it’s not one individual. It’s all of us collectively,” Mina said, and asked the city council to acknowledge its mistake, “so you can create trust.”
Bend Mayor Sally Russell thanked them for coming.
“And even if we may have made an unintended error in your eyes, I’m happy to learn about it, and I’d like you to know that we have taken steps to fix it,” Russell said.
The image of the wagon has been removed from the city’s online transportation survey. Bend spokeswoman Anne Aurand said the billboard will be replaced, but didn’t give a date.
The city spent about $2,500 to rent the sign on SE Wilson Ave and 9th Street for two months.
The other side of the same billboard promotes an opioid abuse prevention effort by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.