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Ho-Chunk in La Crosse holds meeting concerning Hiawatha statue

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“It’ll be gone,” maybe not soon but someday.

That’s what one representative of the Ho-Chunk Nation said at a town meeting Thursday night about the big Hiawatha statue in La Crosse’s Riverside Park.

The city has now received more requests from Native Americans to take the statue along at Riverside Park down.

Tracy Littlejohn, who works at the La Crosse office of the Ho-Chunk Nation, said the existing statue does not serve an educational purpose.

“All that teaches people is that the city of La Crosse does not understand what was here before and does not respect that,” she said at a meeting hosted by the Ho-Chunk Nation Thursday night.

Littlejohn researched the statue nearly 20 years ago, the last time the city government considered plans to take down the artwork.

“There was this group, this committee, the Chamber County City Tourist Publicity committee, that was with the chamber of commerce,” she explained. “And, they wanted a tourist attraction. That is what they commissioned Anthony Zimmerhakl for. A tourist attraction.”

Zimmerhakl was a La Crosse schools arts teacher who built the 25-foot high statue that’s stood in Riverside Park since October 1961.

Littlejohn said she would like the community to replace Hiawatha with a different piece of art that accurately reflects the lives of the Ho-Chunk.

John Greendeer of Stevens Point, Wis., spoke at the meeting Thursday. He said it could take generations, but he predicts that somebody in La Crosse will eventually decide to have the statue removed. He added that La Crosse is rich with real Native American culture and artifacts that should be celebrated.

“This is what you have,” Greendeer said. “Nobody else has that. This is one of the most unique cities, counties, shorelines on the west coast that Wisconsin has.”

Calls for the removal of Hiawatha were revived a month ago, after a similar public discussion of local art and culture.

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also 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. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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