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Thursday - December 7, 2017 3:36 am

"Native American" statues in La Crosse not so native?

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Changing attitudes in society could lead to the removal of certain works of art in La Crosse, such as the Hiawatha statue in Riverside Park.

Speakers Wednesday at a public meeting on art in La Crosse generally agreed that the Big Indian statue should be removed. Community members say now may be the time to remove Hiawatha, since it still offends local native Americans of the Ho-Chunk nation.

"We all knew about Iron Eyes Cody but the rest of the world didn't," Daniel Green said, pointing out that the statue does not represent the Ho-Chunk Nation living in the area. "They thought he was an actual indian."

Iron Eyes Cody played a native American in an anti-littering TV commercial. Other speakers at the meeting said that the statue, erected in 1960 by a Central High School art teacher, stands for white people's perception of Indians.

On the north side of town, the 'lacrosse players' sculpture is generally considered more acceptable but Shaundel Spivey of La Crosse's Human Rights Commission argued against it, as well.

"It's just as insulting to have a statue with no educational purpose, whatsoever," Spivey said. "So, you have all these people around here thinking that lacrosse is just this game that people play, and you're not necessarily educating folks on the history that the game comes from."

City councilman Gary Padesky is among the Hiawatha statue defenders, arguing that art teacher Anthony Zimmerhakl was sincerely trying to honor indians in the region.

"It's met to incorporate three or four different tribes," Padesky said. "It was meant in the highest regard as a sign of respect."

Spivey said that if the Zimmerhakls want the statue saved, they should take it to one of their own homes. The statue came close to being taken down almost 20 years ago.

The fairly new local statue of African-American athlete George Poage was also mentioned at the meeting. One speaker wondered whether it might promote a stereotype of black men being good at sports.

The statue of George Poage comes with plenty of rhetoric and his history paving the way for black people goes beyond sports. Read about him here.


Brad Williams

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from U-W-La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area.  Brad writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse.  He's been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.  

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