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Arts board waiting for Human Rights Commission on Hiawatha Statue decision



A key decision on La Crosse’s Hiawatha statue could be up to the city’s Human Rights Commission.

That group co-sponsored a forum back in December, which seemed to revive public complaints about the ‘Big Indian’ put up in Riverside Park over 50 years ago.

Arts board chair Doug Weidenback expects that commission to make a “strong recommendation” soon on the ‘Big Indian’ statue which has been criticized as a caricature.

Weidenback said if native Americans believe that offensive artworks can lead to psychological problems for young people, then the arts board has a “moral duty” to keep the Hiawatha statue as an agenda item for the near future.

Last week, native American speakers from the Ho-Chunk nation in La Crosse said offensive stereotypes can have a negative impact on young people, which carries on through generations.

“Human rights commission is considering a resolution about Hiawatha,” Weidenback said. “What the arts board plans to do, is once that resolution is brought out, the board will read it.”

It could take months, or years, before anything new is done to the statue. Weidenback added that he wants his committee to hold off on any action until the human rights group reaches a consensus.

“We’re going to seriously look it over as a board, have a conversation about what it says and then either decide to join them or not join them,” Weidenback said.

Tracy Littlejohn, who works at the La Crosse office of the Ho-Chunk Nation, said at their meeting last week that the 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.

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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