An Apology From Portland Monthly

The combination of an illustration and a headline in our April issue caused justifiable offense.

By Zach Dundas April 1, 2016

Recently, Portland Monthly published a short essay on the subject of school choice, accompanied by an illustration that adapted the standard school-crossing sign to show its stick-figure humans armed with arrow-like weapons. The headline—written by editors, not the freelance writer who contributed the body of the article—used the phrase “hostile tribes” to describe the social tensions arising from the issues discussed in the piece that followed.

Since the illustration and the article title appeared in our April issue and on our website, we have heard from numerous readers and Native American community leaders that this combination of words and images is offensive and derogatory, evoking negative stereotypes of Native Americans.

We erred in publishing this image and title, particularly in combination. We did not intend to offend any person or community, but in this case intention is beside the point. We have heard clearly that we caused pain, anger, and confusion among readers and communities we care about, and we are sorry.

As a first step, the image has been removed from the online version of the article, and the online headline has been changed. We’ll address the situation in print at the first opportunity afforded by our publication schedule, which will be our June issue.

Beyond that, I have had a number of conversations with Portland community leaders over the last couple of days. Those conversations have been humbling and wrenching at times, and I’m grateful for the time and consideration they demanded of those involved. I will work to keep those dialogues going and to devise a constructive way for our editorial staff to improve and expand our coverage of Portland’s Native American communities and other communities of color, which is always one of our journalistic goals.

In the creative process that led to this situation, we failed to analyze our work in progress and consider how it might resonate among our Native American readers and fellow Portlanders. Everyone involved in the project is a conscientious professional who operated in good faith. The failure to examine the full implications of what we created ultimately resides with me as editor. I thought the motifs in play functioned as universal metaphors. Given our specific context—in Portland, Oregon, and western North America—I now understand that I thought wrong. I apologize.

Portland is home to one of the largest urban Native American populations in the US; Oregon’s sovereign tribes are formative forces in our state’s identity and future. At Portland Monthly, we know these truths and have always strived to cover our Native American communities and individuals and the issues relevant to them in meaningful ways. We do this aware that we have a long way to go, on this and other fronts, to reflect, represent, and explore Portland’s growing and evolving diversity, which we love.

On a personal note, I have spent my life in Montana and Oregon, growing up and beginning my journalistic career just to the south of the Flathead Indian Reservation and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. I have written about Native American people and issues many times, and the last few days have provided an opportunity to reflect on how that admittedly limited experience has enriched my life and career.

According to its mission statement, Portland Monthly “chronicles, challenges, and celebrates one of America’s most innovative cities, inspiring readers to explore and shape the vibrant metropolis we call home.” We fell short of that aspiration in this case, unintentionally but substantially, and we’ll work to do better next time.

Zach Dundas
Editor in Chief
[email protected]

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