Pro-gun billboards in Greeley getting national attention |

Pro-gun billboards in Greeley getting national attention

W hitney Phillips
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Two Greeley billboards on which images of Native Americans are used to make a pro-gun rights argument are causing a stir with some residents, who say the subject matter of the image is “offensive” and “insensitive.”

The billboards — one on the northbound side of U.S. 85 near 18th Street, the other on the westbound side of U.S. 34 near 95th Avenue — show three men dressed in traditional Native American attire and the words “Turn in your arms. The government will take care of you.”

Matt Wells, an account executive with Lamar Advertising, which owns the billboards, said a group of local residents purchased the space. Wells said he thinks the billboard was not meant to be offensive, but was intended to send an attention-grabbing message about Second Amendment rights.

“I think it’s a little bit extreme, of course, but I think people are really worried about their gun rights and what liberties are going to be taken away,” Wells said.

Wells said the group of residents declined to be identified and did not want to comment.

Greeley resident Kerri Salazar , who is of Native American descent, said she was “beside herself” when her daughter first brought the image to her attention. She said she doesn’t have a problem with the apparently pro-gun rights message; she’s offended the Native American people were singled out, seemingly without their consent.

“I think we all get that (Second Amendment) message,” she said. “What I don’t understand is how an organization can post something like that and not think about the ripple effect that it’s going to have through the community.”

Salazar’s daughter, Christina Gutierrez, echoed her mother’s opinion.

“I get their point, but to use the natives to do so was very offensive because still to this day, they’re not treated right,” Gutierrez said. “It just brings that back for them, the memory of what happened, and it’s still happening now.”

Greeley resident Maureen Brucker, who has worked with Native American organizations and who frequents the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota as an honorary family member, said she thinks the billboards are making light of the atrocities the federal government committed against Native Americans.

She said the billboard brings to her mind one of the most horrendous examples of that, the Wounded Knee Massacre on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1890. Historical accounts say the United States 7th Cavalry had detained a band of Native Americans and asked them to give up their weapons. Troops began firing after a shot rang out. Death toll estimates of Native American men, women and children range from 150 to 300.

Brucker added that she thinks those who put up the image should be willing to discuss their viewpoint.

“I thought it was pretty cowardly that someone would put something like that up and spend the money for a billboard but didn’t have the courage to put their name on it,” she said.

Irene Vernon, a Colorado State University professor and chairwoman of the ethnic studies department, said the message on the billboard is taking a narrow view at a much more complicated history of the Native American plight. She said it’s not as if Native Americans just gave up their guns and wound up on reservations; the outcome we see today is the result of many laws and policies.

“It wasn’t just about our guns,” said Vernon, a Native American.

Salazar said she doesn’t think those who put up the billboard meant to offend the Native American community, but she hopes they will redesign the billboard and avoid pinpointing any specific group of people who have suffered.

“It’s an insensitive thing to do to my people,” Salazar said.

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