Did Barry Goldwater, the father of modern conservatism, once refer to the American Indian Movement as "Assholes in Moccasins"?
More to the point, if you were a Native American artist claiming that he did, would you choose to unload that knowledge at a Heard Museum fundraiser full of Goldwater lovers -- just before asking them to bid on your work?
These are the existential questions that we find ourselves contemplating here at Valley Fever in the wake of the Heard Museum's biggest fundraiser of the year, Moondance, and the oddly uncomfortable moment that took place during a jewelry auction that evening last weekend.
One caveat: We were not in attendance. (We're journalists; we can't afford $500 just to get in the door.) But we've now spoken to three sources who were there.
They all agree that, during the auction part of the evening's festivities, a Native American artist was called to the mic to discuss his piece, but instead began to talk politics.
Specifically, the artist told of his acquaintance with the father of modern conservatism, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. The story was going well enough, our sources say, until the artist recalled the moment that Goldwater asked him, "You're not involved with AIM, are you?"
AIM, of course, is the the acronym for the American Indian Movement, an activist group that took an aggressive approach to fighting for Native American rights. (Its tactics led, in part, to the infamous standoff at Wounded Knee.)
That might be an awkward enough reference for a museum that was originally started by a white family hoping to showcase its collection of Native American art.
But then the artist claimed that Goldwater took it a step further.
"You know what I call those guys?" he recalled Goldwater saying. "Assholes in Moccasins."
"And that was the end of that friendship," the artist concluded.
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As our sources report, "there was a little bit of a gasp" as the story concluded. Ya think?
"Why bring this up there?" one of sources asks. "This was a crowd where Barry Goldwater was very much revered."
We're told that that the jewelry ultimately sold for $14,000, roughly half the asking price. But in these tough times, who knows if the Goldwater reference was a factor. Maybe the wealthy donors who normally pay $25,000 for a piece of jewelry just lost their savings to Bernie Madoff.
But really... We wouldn't recommend a gratuitous Your-Dead-Hero-Was-a-Racist anecdote in any economy, much less this one.