New York Governor Looks to Remove ‘Offensive’ Artwork from the State Capitol

By: Lauren | Published: Jan 25, 2024

New York’s Gov. Kathy Hochul recently announced that she may remove much of the famous artwork from the state’s capitol building in Albany.

And while there is certainly some debate as to whether or not the artwork should be removed, Gov. Hochul believes wholeheartedly that the depictions are offensive to Native American residents of the state and, therefore, shouldn’t be in a government building.

Government Building Mural History

Murals in government buildings like in Albany weren’t always commonplace. It wasn’t until their use in the Mexican Revolution in 1920 that the idea of using murals caught on in the United States. Artists used mural painting as a way to express cultural ideas and as an effective form of awareness activism.

A mural painting in a Missouri post office.


Government murals became more common after the Great Depression when the government commissioned them in an effort to provide funding for artists like painters and musicians.

The Albany Artwork in Question

When one enters the capitol building in Albany, they are greeted by a floor-to-ceiling mural in the reception area.

Paintings depicting the killing of Native Americans in the state NY Capitol Building

Source: Alamy

The nearly 100-year-old mural, painted by William de Leftwich Dodge, shows some of the earliest battles on New York State soil between the Indigenous population and colonizers.

The Painter: William de Leftwich Dodge

William de Leftwich Dodge was an artist born in Bedford County, Virginia in 1867. He was a famous mural painter and created works on public and private buildings of many subjects.

Dodge's painting the Death of Minnehaha.

William de Leftwich Dodge/Wikimedia

Mural painting reached the height of popularity when he was working, and he famously completed a series of mural paintings for the Library of Congress. He died in New York City at the age of 68.

The Painting Was Clearly Created by a Colonizer

The scenes within the giant painting clearly show colonizers killing Native Americans. In fact, in one scene, the script literally says, “Champlain Killing First Indian.”

Paintings depicting the killing of Native Americans in the state NY Capitol Building

Source: Alamy

Gov. Hochul said in a recent statement: “Indigenous peoples, in particular, are often depicted in artworks in a manner that reflects harmful racial stereotypes and glorifies violence against Indigenous peoples. Such depictions do not reflect the values of New York State.” And therefore, she believes it’s time to “reassess.”

Indigenous Feelings On Representation

Some indigenous people have negative attitudes toward their representation in classical art and modern media. This group feels like control of their cultural stories has been taken from them without their consent. 

A Washington Redskins Football Helmet

All-Pro Reels/Wikimedia

study by the University of Michigan published in 2020 found 65 percent of native respondents were offended by sports fans imitating the “tomahawk chop”. Over half said they were offended by the name of the Redskin’s baseball team.


Hochul Doesn’t Believe Native Americans in New York Feel Welcome at the Capitol

Hochul also said that “all New Yorkers should feel welcome and respected when visiting the state capitol. Unfortunately, offensive imagery and distasteful representations of populations in the art which adorns the capitol can alienate visitors.”

Exterior view of the Capitol Building in Albany, New York


And it seems that Hochul is correct in her belief that many Native Americans in New York do not appreciate the offensive paintings.


Albany's History of Racism Towards Indigenous Persons

The area that would become Albany, New York was originally held by the Algonquin Mahican and Iroquoian Mohawk tribes. As English and Dutch settlers started to explore and settle the land after 1609, it caused conflict among Native Nation peoples. 

A map of Iroquois areas in New York.

Morgan, Lewis Henry; Pease, Richard H./Wikimedia

Europeans moving in to colonize the area and conduct trade destabilized the region. Eventually, the United States government resettled the land in Southern New York and forcibly evicted the Iroquois and other native people who were living there.


Many Native American Activists Have Complained

Several Native American activists who have visited the capitol building in Albany have expressed their frustrations to Hochul and her administration.

Emblem for the Seneca Nation of Indians with several artifacts


Counselor of the Seneca Nation, JC Seneca, recently said that he was “disgusted” when he saw the painting, explaining, “It’s braggadocios about killing my people. They killed a lot of our people and stole a lot of our land” (via MSN).


Activist Rallies

Indigenous activists view the continued existence of racist murals and monuments as a sign that America still fosters discrimination. In the absence of government action to removal demands, they often hold rallies to put the pressure on.

A view of the Iowa Capitol building.

Ashton B Crew/Wikimedia

In 2020, activists held a rally in Iowa to protest three offensive monuments still displayed there. Central to their complaint was the argument that the capitol should be a welcoming place for all.


Gov. Hochul’s Plan to Replace the Existing Art with a Better Representation of New York

According to the State of the State book, Gov. Hochul doesn’t just plan to remove the existing art; she also wants to replace it with a true representation of the state’s Indigenous people.

Six Chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy's Six Nations, each dressed in tribal robes, looking up as they attend the dedication ceremony of the United Nations headquarters in New York City,

Source: European/FGG/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The statement reads, “To ensure that all New Yorkers are welcomed in the capitol, this year Gov. Hochul will commence a comprehensive review of artistic representation of Indigenous peoples in the capitol, with invited participation from representatives from each of the nine Indigenous Nations.”


Mural Replacements

Activists have succeeded across the country in getting cities and states to repaint offensive murals. In San Francisco, a school district decided to repaint a positive mural for Indigenous people instead of simply removing the negative one. 

A look down a long public school hallway.

Nadia Eimandoust/Wikimedia

The original mural, “The Life of Washington,” featured a depiction of a native person dead on the ground while pioneers stood by his corpse.


Gov. Hochul Has Already Removed Native American Mascots

While many are talking about Hochul’s decision to remove the Native American art she and many others deem as offensive, it’s not all that surprising.

Protest with several activists holding signs to change the name of the Kansas City Chiefs NFL team

Source: @Divercity Newsletter/Linkedin

In 2022, she also supported New York education officials when they decided to remove all Native American mascots that many found disrespectful from schools around the state.


Hochul's Politics

Kathy Hochul began her political career as a town board member before becoming a clerk in Erie County. She also served as a congressional member of New York’s 26th district before becoming governor of the state.

Governor Hochul greeting Marcy Katpur.

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur/Wikimedia

When elected in 2021, she became the first female governor in New York’s history. She is a Democrat and an activist for women’s issues.


Hochul May Also Remove the Bust of Christopher Columbus from the Capitol Building

And although Hochul has not made a formal statement regarding the matter yet, some believe that the bust of Christopher Columbus within the capitol building’s “Million Dollar Staircase” will be next.

The “Million Dollar Staircase” at the New York Capitol Building in Albany


In recent years, many Americans have changed the long-standing opinion of the explorer, and now, Columbus statutes are being removed from their place in squares and government buildings all over the country.


The Columbus Bust Was Previously Protested

In 2020, a protestor hung a sign around the neck of the Christopher Columbus Bust in Albany. Contro Colombo 518, an activist group took credit for the protest statement. The sign read “Stop celebrating Genocide.” 

A depiction of Christopher Columbus

Wellcome Trust/Wikimedia

At the time, Carmela Mantello, the Troy City Council President called for an investigation, citing it as a possible act of bigotry against Italian Americans.


Christopher Columbus Statues Being Removed by Citizens

In 2020, dozens of Christopher Columbus statues were taken down, some by the local government, but most by frustrated citizens.

A statue of Christopher Columbus, which was toppled to the ground by protesters in Minnesota

Source: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The removal and vandalization of Columbus statues began after the death of George Floyd when many Americans took to the streets to dismantle the many symbols of racism and colonialism that litter public spaces.


Native Americans Around the Country Want to See Columbus Gone

JC Seneca, who commented on Hochul’s decision to remove the Native American art at the capitol, also spoke to the removal of the Christopher Columbus bust.

Red paint covers a statue of Christopher Columbus in Belgrave Square

Source: Rob Pinney/Getty Images

He said in a statement, “Columbus did a lot of rape and pillaging. They need to think about his presence in the state [New York] Capitol” (via MSN).


Complicated History of Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus as a celebrated historical figure has become controversial in modern-day America. He is sometimes seen as an integral part of the eventual founding of the country and a brave explorer.

A portrait of Christopher Columbus

Sebastiano del Piombo/Wikimedia

However, people looking at his history call his motivations into question and dispute the claim that he had discovered North America when people were already living there.


For Many, Hochul Is Taking the Right Steps

Seneca also said, “The governor is taking a step in the right direction. Removal of these negative portrayals has been part of discussions for many years.”

New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks to an audience

Source: Craig-Ruttle-Pool/Getty Images

And while not everyone agrees with the governor’s policies, or specifically her decision to remove the art in question, almost 80,000 Native Americans who live in the state of New York certainly do.


Indigenous Feelings on the US Government

Activists for Indigenous causes are using the fight against racist monuments and murals to create momentum for a movement to get ancestral lands returned to the tribes who they were stolen from. 

A panel held in the US for Native American Heritage Month.

US Department of Education/Wikimedia

Brookings reported in 2022 that 78% of Native American voters think the federal government has failed to honor treaties signed with Native tribes. Many indigenous people feel the federal government isn’t doing enough to make them feel welcome.


More than Half of Native Americans Report Institutional Discrimination

In a 2017 NPR poll, 55 percent of Native Americans reported being personally discriminated against by the police. 

An activist expressing a political message through writing.

US Department of Education/Wikimedia

This poll looked at Native Americans living in majority-native areas, who seemed to experience the most discrimination there. 54% reported discrimination in applying for jobs and the same number also reported difficulty being considered for promotions and equal pay. Regardless of where Native Americans live, a significant percentage reported feeling discriminated against in daily life.


History of Distrust in the Government

Indigenous people and Native Americans have often been mistrustful of promises by the government. While many feel Governor Huchul’s move is the right one, it is not surprising that some are not as hopeful.

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Native American Day

Office of the California Governor/Wikimedia

Native Americans were not officially given the right to vote until 1924. Before that time they were not technically US citizens. Many indigenous people do not believe in the ability of a non-tribal government to keep their word and look out for Native American’s best interests.


What’s Next for Gov. Hochul?

When the art will be removed and whether the Christopher Columbus bust will be taken down hasn’t been announced just yet.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul holds up signed legislation creating a commission for the study of reparations in New York

Source: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

But as Gov. Hochul has shown she wants to leave New York as a more racially just state than she found it.