Oval Office Art Is a Nod to Inouye and Native Americans

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“Swift Messenger” by the late Apache sculptor Allan Houser was a gift to Sen. Daniel Inouye, who was an advocate for Native Americans. It was later presented to the National Museum of the American Indian by Inouye’s widow, Irene Hirano Inouye, and is now on loan to the White House and is on the top shelf of a bookcase in the Oval Office (below). These images were posted on Houser’s Facebook page.

WASHINGTON — The art objects placed in the Oval Office by President Joe Biden contain different historical and cultural significance than those of his predecessor.

According to The Albuquerque Journal, a sculpture of a Native American riding a horse is on the top shelf of a built-in bookcase. Titled “Swift Messenger,” it was created in 1990 by Santa Fe sculptor Allan Houser (1914-1994), a Chiricahua Apache. Many of his works are displayed in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Houser’s work focused on the dignity of the Plains Indians, including the Kiowa, Apache and Navajo.

The sculpture was a gift from the artist to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who was the Senate sponsor for the creation of the National Museum of the American Indian. Houser’s “Sacred Rain Arrow” was in the Senate Committee Room for many years.

“Swift Messenger” was gifted to NMAI by Inouye’s wife, Irene Hirano Inouye, after his death. It is now on loan to the White House.

A decorated veteran of World War II and a national figure during the Senate’s Watergate and Iran-Contra hearings, Inouye never lost an election in 58 years as an elected official, and he exercised an exceptionally large influence on Hawaii politics. Inouye was the first Japanese American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and to serve in the U.S. Senate. He is also remembered as an advocate for Native Americans.

When he died in 2012, the National Congress of American Indians issued a statement: “Sen. Inouye was one of the most honorable and courageous men modern Indian Country has known. … As a member and chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs he championed the rights of Native peoples, and we will always remember him for holding the line on numerous issues critical to cultural protection and tribal sovereignty.

“During Inouye’s leadership, a slew of significant Indian bills became law. They included the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1987, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, the Tribal Self Governance Act of 1994, the American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994, the Native American Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment of 2001, the Indian Financing Act of 2002 and the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act of 2002. He also helped pass numerous bills that benefited individual tribes.”

A portrait of President Andrew Jackson that President Trump placed in the Oval Office is gone. In 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which forced many Indigenous communities to leave their ancestral lands and resulted in thousands of deaths. In its place is a portrait Benjamin Franklin.

Other objects in Biden’s office include portraits of Alexander Hamilton and Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt; and busts of President John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

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