Why I refuse to hang my paintings in Governor Brown’s Office

By Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, January 11, 2020


I am an Indigenous artist, based in Klamath County. Recently, Governor Kate Brown invited me to show my art at her Salem office as part of the annual “Art in the Governor’s Office Program”—an invitation they say is “considered a lifetime honor.” I declined.


I said no because Brown can’t have it both ways. She can’t support Oregon tribal members by showcasing our art while at the same time refusing to stand up for us when a huge fossil fuel company tries its very best to ram a fracked gas pipeline though our traditional lands—a pipeline that would threaten our sacred sites, the natural resources we have harvested for millennia, and the safety of our women.


I was a recent college graduate when one of Brown’s predecessors, Gov. Ted Kulongoski, threatened to go to federal court to stop a Canadian company from building a liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline across southern Oregon, including ancestral lands of my Klamath Tribe.


Following Kulongoski’s challenge, the company dropped the project. Will Brown follow in Kulongoski’s footsteps, or let the Trump administration railroad through the proposed Jordan Cove fracked gas export terminal and pipeline?


My family’s history of being betrayed by powerful forces goes back more than 150 years. My great-great-grandfather was among the signers of a peace treaty between the Klamath Tribe and the U.S government in 1864.


But in 1873, the Army hanged four of the Modoc leaders. My great-grandmother, Emma Ball, then nine years old, was forced to watch.


More than a hundred years later, my father filed a landmark federal court case after he was fired from his job for participating in Native American religious ceremonies. As a young girl, I accompanied him to Washington, DC for the Supreme Court hearing. His case led Congress to pass Amendments to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1994. 


A few years ago, I went to Standing Rock, where I saw how corporate special interests used state-sponsored violence to impose a fossil fuel project on Indigenous people.


The Jordan Cove fracked gas export terminal and pipeline would jeopardize my ancestral land. Construction would mean “man camps” of workers, which have led to violence against Indigenous women in other places. The highly flammable, 229-mile pipeline across Oregon would add to fire risks. It would impact nearly 500 waterways. And it would create the largest source of climate pollution in the state, affecting tribal members and all Oregonians.


These are some of the reasons why Jordan Cove is opposed by the Klamath, Siletz, Yurok, Karuk, and Tolowa Dee-ni' Tribes.


The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been stacked by President Trump with appointees who have made a career of representing the interests of the oil and gas industry. That means that FERC, which refused Jordan Cove a federal permit before Trump took office, is likely to rubber stamp the project now.


That leaves Governor Brown and our state agencies as the last line of defense for Indigenous people and for all Oregon communities.


Even if FERC grants a federal permit, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Department of State Lands, and Department of Land Conservation and Development all have authority to deny state permits and certifications. And, like Kulongoski, Brown could go to court to oppose Trump administration moves to force this project on Oregonians.


Instead of a giant new fossil fuel project, Governor Brown should be promoting solar power and other cleaner energy sources, as well as greater energy efficiency.


My family knows from experience that elected officials like Governor Brown can choose whether to be on the right side of history or not. Indigenous people, and all Oregonians, are counting on her to make the right choice.


Today, my art hangs at the Portland Art Museum, the Hoffman Gallery at Lewis and Clark College, and the Nine Gallery- Blue Sky Gallery. Several of my recent work express my anguish over this proposed pipeline. Someday, I would love to paint stories of triumph and power, of solidarity between native and non-native Oregonians. When Brown stops Jordan Cove in its tracks, maybe I will. And maybe then I’ll hang those paintings in the Governor’s office.


Ka’ila Farrell Smith is a member of the Klamath Tribe.

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