When you think of a Native American in motion pictures or in paintings, the customary image of a warrior wielding a hatchet will likely come to mind.

It doesn’t get much better with imagery of Indian women in the arts. Pocahontas in braids, beads, and buckskins is commonplace. The fact that she was the daughter of an Algonquin chief seldom enter the picture.

Also overlooked is Pocahontas’s seizure by the English, who was then converted to Christianity, and baptized with a new name – Rebecca. Yet, in the 1995 movie “Pocahontas,” the Indian princess shares a romance with one of the English soldiers who invaded her land.

So, when it comes to picturing the Native American woman these days, you’d think that Dale Lamphere’s monument to such a woman – “Dignity of Earth and Sky” – would be well-received.

In stainless steel, the statue stands fifty feet tall on a steep cliff towering over the Missouri River. Unveiled in 2016, “Dignity of Earth and Sky” has proved controversial lately.

Where’s the beef?

The uproar is summarized in a recent headline from Hyperallergic magazine: “Who gets to Honor Native Women in the US”?

The art journal reported that some tribal members are balking about the artist’s race. “Dignity of Earth and Sky” is meant as a monument to Native American women Lamphere, is not Native American.

A fracas about race in monument-making is relatively new in the art world.

You may remember my report last year about the city of Philadelphia’s getting complaints because plans for a monument of Harriet Tubman were awarded to a white artist.

But wait. Race isn’t the only divide these days. A statue planned to pay homage to native women of Mexico City prompted a furor because the commission went to an artist who was of the same ethnicity, but male.

Not that getting race and gender to fit the subject guarantees success. The failed memorial to Martin Luther King and his wife Loretta Scott King illustrates the foolishness of the criterion.

Clearly, tribalism in the arts don’t necessarily produce the best outcomes. As I have written, a black artist painted the portraits of Barack Obama and it was a dud.

But here’s the thing. It’s not like the sculptor who created “Dignity of Earth and Sky” wasn’t sensitive to his subject. “He saw that Native women are the backbone of their society,” patron Norma McKie told Hyperallergic magazine.

“They’re the ones that hold things together, and he wanted to acknowledge that,” McKie went on to say. His description of the female figure speaks of that acknowledgment by outstretching a quilt as if to hold her people together.

No matter. Clementine Bordeaux of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, frets about the race of the artist. “How do we embrace representation when it’s coming from a non-Native person who has the luxury of designing without the pressure of a long history of oppression?”

Explaining the “long history of oppression,” Bordeaux points to a large number of Native Americans in South Dakota prisons.

She prefers monuments to her people crafted by those who have lived the American Indian experience, she said.

Tribalism doesn’t work in the arts

I’ve yet to hear of any Native American faulting Lamphere’s sculpture. Maybe the better way to look at a monument is to see what it stands for rather than the artist’s pedigree.

I keep thinking of America’s beloved Statue of Lady Liberty made by a non-American who was also male. The sculptor, Auguste Bartholdi, is said to have modeled the face of the statue after his mother. How little that matter is the point of this story.