On the same day that the Washington Redskins football team has announced it is changing the franchise name, the mayor of La Crosse says “it is time” for the city to remove the Big Indian statue from Riverside Park.
Mayor Tim Kabat has sent the following letter to city leaders:
Dear Common Council Members:
Please see the attached letter regarding my request to remove the Hiawatha Statue from Riverside Park.
We are watching a sea change occurring around the country. It is time for us to address our own symbols and those that cause our residents pain.
We have had good conversations with the family of Anthony Zimmerhakl about returning the statue and honoring Mr. Zimmerhakl at the current site in some fashion – yet to be determined. I propose we store the statue at the MSC until the family finalizes their preferred relocation site. We have the funding available and staff is ready to go.
I hope I have your support in this endeavor.
We have researched the legislative record and the Board of Park Commissioners has the authority to remove the statue and I am asking them to do that.
I understand there will be many upset residents. I also understand there maybe calls for a referendum, study groups, task forces, public forums, etc.
But deep down each of us must know that it is time to retire the Hiawatha and return it to the Zimmerhakl family per their request. Let’s come together in solidarity to move all of La Crosse forward in a positive way.
Let me know if you have any questions or need additional information.
Former Central High School art teacher Anthony Zimmerhakl created the 25-foot Hiawatha statue as a tourist attraction, at the request of the local business community.
Hiawatha was installed at Riverside Park on October 12, 1961.
The installation on Columbus Day may have been a coincidence, since a news report at the time suggests the city apparently wanted it placed in the park in time for La Crosse’s first Oktoberfest, which began the following day.
The future of Hiawatha was studied by a city committee in 2000, and the city council narrowly voted to keep the statue in place, but there have been new public calls in the last couple of years to have the statue removed.
Park director Jay Odegaard says the request will be discussed at a park board meeting later this week.
Odegaard says the city council again has the power to make plans for Hiawatha’s future.