Video captures racist incident against Native American performers outside Old Town Scottsdale art gallery
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - A Scottsdale art gallery owner now faces disorderly conduct charges after he was reportedly caught on camera taunting a group of Native American performers filming for the Super Bowl.
The video, which was uploaded by Instagram user thebandblackbird, was taken outside a business near Scottsdale Road and Main Street.
According to the caption that is burned onto the video, the incident happened while indigenous performers were being filmed by ESPN for Super Bowl-related video content.
In the video, the name "Gilbert Ortega Authentic Indian Art Galleries" can be seen printed on a glass door that leads into the business.
The video shows a man with long hair, since identified as Ortega Jr., chant in a mocking manner, as well as saying "MAGA Country" at one point, a reference to Former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign slogan, Make America Great Again.
In the video, Ortega can be seen mocking them and yelling "you (expletive) Indians" at one point.
"It is reported that Mr. Ortega began yelling at the performers causing a disturbance," Scottsdale police said.
Cody Blackbird, a dancer and flutist who filmed the man’s tirade, said his group doesn’t feel safe, and that the confrontation has ruined what should have been a celebratory week.
"He seemed angry at the fact that natives were having a platform and being asked to do this," said Cody Blackbird, who recorded the video. "A lot of the local shop owners are very supportive of the native art market we were there performing for."
At one point during the video, Ortega Jr. was seen getting physically close to the Blackbird. Towards the end of the video, a woman was seen exiting the store, eventually having a conversation with Ortega.
"Us performers are now going in different entrances and parking in different places. This man is known," Blackbird said. "There’s a 10-year-old girl who was there. She’s forever imprinted with ‘This is what happened when the Super Bowl came to town.’"
Blackbird said Ortega Jr. tried to apologize in person.
"He went to shake my hand and say how sorry he was," said Blackbird. "I didn't accept the apology or the handshake. He left flowers."
Blackbird, who is of Eastern Band Cherokee and Dakota descent, said some Navajo performers heard Ortega make threats in their language that had violent and sexual innuendos. He also alleges Ortega charged at them and had to be physically restrained. He said he doesn’t see why it’s not being treated as a hate crime.
"That’s what it’s seeming like, which really creates some horrible precedents, dangerous precedents," said Blackbird, who has retained an attorney.
Blackbird said there are growing calls on social media for artists to boycott Gilbert Ortega Jr.’s business. He said racism exists even among people whose business hinges on Indigenous people.
"That’s always been a thing in the Indian trader world," Blackbird said. "They don’t care about the people that are making the items they’re selling and redesigning."
The group is seeking the involvement of the FBI, U.S. Justice Department and Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
We reached out to Ortega Jr. for a statement, but we have yet to heard back.
Police explain why the incident is not designated as a hate crime
In Arizona, there is no law specific to a hate crime itself. It can be used as an aggravating circumstance in the commission of a crime where the motive was bias against a victim’s race, religion, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.
Disorderly conduct does not qualify for a hate crime designation under the FBI’s definition, according to Scottsdale authorities. The FBI website describes a hate crime as "often a violent crime, such as assault, murder, arson, vandalism, or threats to commit such crimes."
On Feb. 9, police announced that charges would be submitted against Ortega for three counts of disorderly conduct, which is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
"The Arizona Crime Statistics Dashboard describes [that] a 'hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, the FBI has defined a hate crime as a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity," read a portion of Scottsdale Police's statement. "Said differently, there is no specific offense of "hate crime" in Arizona, rather, a hate crime designator can be added to another criminal offense if it can be determined that the crime was motivated by race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity."
"I wanna see the departments that have failed and the City that has failed, this business, the native art market to issue apologies for how this was handled," said Blackbird.
Business's social media presence deactivated
The business is associated with a larger group of stores known for selling Native American items in the Southwest. But Ortega’s on the Plaza, located in New Mexico, said Gilbert Ortega Jr. is a distant relative and the Santa Fe store is not affiliated with him.
"The family and employees of Ortega’s on the Plaza in Santa Fe condemn racism and discrimination in all forms," Janelle Ortega said in a statement Thursday. "Furthermore, we consider it a great honor to carry and showcase the work of Indigenous artists and a privilege to support them in other important public and personal endeavors."
The Facebook and Instagram pages for the business are no longer publicly accessible as of the evening of Feb. 8.
Meanwhile, Yelp says they have temporarily disabled the posting of reviews on the gallery's page due to the business receiving "increased public attention resulting in an influx of people posting their views to this page."
"While racism has no place on Yelp and we unequivocally reject racism or discrimination in any form, all reviews on Yelp must reflect an actual first-hand consumer experience (even if that means disabling the ability for users to express points of view we might agree with)," a portion of the Public Attention Alert statement posted by Yelp official reads.
According to Yelp's website, the alert was introduced in response to a rise in social activism surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.
"If someone associated with a business is accused of, or the target of, racist behavior, we will place a Public Attention Alert on the business page to warn consumers that the business may be seeing an unusual spike in reviews as a result of increased public attention," a portion of Yelps' description of the Public Attention Alert reads.
According to a brief 2020 article published as an ‘advertorial’ by the Los Angeles Business Journal, a man named Gilbert Ortega Jr. is the person who runs the day-to-day operation of the gallery.
Scottsdale city officials issue response
We reached out to the City of Scottsdale for comment on the video that was posted on Feb. 8. In response, Kelly Corsette with the city government issued a statement that reads:
"Scottsdale prides itself as a welcoming community for all people. We are sad that this incident occurred and offer our full support to those who were targeted. The city condemns this individual's racist comments - they do not represent our community."
On Feb. 9, we received a statement from Scottsdale Mayor David. D. Ortega, which reads:
"Gilbert Ortega, Jr.'s despicable language and rage directed to Native performers is reprehensible and inexcusable.
Two years ago, when Native Art Market opened in Old Town, I welcomed them wholeheartedly to our community. Today I met in person with them to express solidarity and assure them that the City of Scottsdale is pursuing the matter to the fullest extent of the law.
The behavior exhibited by this individual saddens and disgusts the people of our community. Last weekend, I spent many hours joining others in celebration during Scottsdale Western Week, including Parada Del Sol, and the Arizona Indian Festival at Civic Center grounds."At the Arizona Indian Festival, it was my sincere honor to acknowledge Tribal Nations Royalty, and speak of the greatness of Native mythology, origin creation and family culture.
This ugly incident must be a reminder that our commitment to upholding respect, dignity and anti-discrimination must be steadfast and never wane."Scottsdale history is intertwined with Native peoples living respectfully on Mother Earth, under Father Sky. Together, we are one."
The statement also notes that Mayor Ortega is of no relation to Ortega Jr.
Scottsdale has seen previous racist incidents
This is not the first time a racist incident has happened in Scottsdale.
In October 2020, Instagram user its.drebaby posted a video that shows a racist incident between him and another man in Scottsdale, where the man approached the Instagram user, who is Black, and said the area is a "no n***** zone."
(Due to use of offensive language in the video and the video description, viewer discretion is advised)
According to cable channel BET's report on the incident, The person who said the offensive words was identified as Paul Ng.
Ng, according to the firm Russ Lyon Sotheby's International Realty, was an "inactive independent contractor" with the realty firm. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, officials with Russ Lyon Sotheby's International Realty said they have terminated Ng's involvement with the company, while notifying the Arizona Department of Real Estate of what happened, with a recommendation for Ng's real estate license to be revoked.
A search of the Arizona Department of Real Estate's public database shows only one Paul Ng in the database, with the license status listed as "inactive."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.