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La Crosse’s park board unanimously votes to remove Hiawatha statue from Riverside

Brad Williams

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La Crosse’s park board voted unanimously to proceed with removal of the Hiawatha statue from Riverside Park.

That vote Thursday night came just moments after the board was deadlocked on whether to refer the issue to the August meeting, to allow more public comment.

Some board members argued that the request for removal from Mayor Tim Kabat was only made this week.

Others, however, including speakers representing Native American groups, said the statue has been discussed for years, and nothing would be gained by putting off action.

“The statue is a mishmash of many different tribes,” Tracy Littlejohn of the Ho-Chunk Nation said during the meeting. “It does not reflect one particular tribe. That is insulting to us as because we are as separate as Ho-Chunk or Anishinabe or Menominee or Lakota.”

Earlier Thursday, City Hall was presented with a petition to have Hiawatha preserved as a historic local work of art.

Sculptor Anthony Zimmerhakl created Hiawatha as a representation of several tribes, but native speakers have argued that the statue does not represent the Ho-Chunk living in this area, and is “cartoonish.”

In his letter Monday, Kabat said, “The Hiawatha was commissioned as a tourist attraction about 60 years ago and was met with controversy almost immediately. Nearly all would agree that today’s main tourist attractions highlight the natural beauty of our area including the Mississippi River and our bluffs, rivers, trails and marshes. The time to retire Hiawatha has come.”

The La Crosse city council voted in 2000 to keep the statue in place, after a study committee called for it to be removed.   

Hiawatha was installed in 1961, commissioned by the local business community. It was installed, likely coincidentally on Columbus Day, for the purpose of being a tourist attraction for the upcoming Oktoberfest that season.

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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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Susan Hasoon

    July 16, 2020 at 3:22 pm

    Please keep that beautiful statue of the Indian. It has been up there for as long as I can remember. Whoever carved it did a marvelous job. It reminds me of the days past and who lived there before us. It should not be forgotten.

  2. Avatar

    Jeffrey Hughes

    July 16, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    Stay

  3. Avatar

    Sue Ann OBrien

    July 16, 2020 at 3:31 pm

    Keep the Native American right where the artist put it, in Riverside Park in honor of Native Americans that used the Mississippi River.

  4. Avatar

    Kim otto

    July 16, 2020 at 3:34 pm

    How do we vote to keep Hiawatha?

  5. Avatar

    Linda L. Marshall

    July 16, 2020 at 5:02 pm

    STAY

  6. Avatar

    Joyce Henthorne

    July 16, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    Leave the statue alone. It is an important part of our history. I am a native of La Crosse and enjoy visiting Riverside and seeing Hiawatha on my trips to La Crosse. It would be a tragedy to remove it. Why is it that a handful of people who start squeaking get the most attention?

  7. Avatar

    Randy Hubert

    July 17, 2020 at 5:41 am

    Dont spend taxpayer dollars to preserve and store it. Just bulldoze it send it to the landfill if the public doesnt have a say.

  8. Avatar

    Thomas

    July 17, 2020 at 6:56 am

    Keep the statue, remove the mayor

    • Avatar

      David

      July 17, 2020 at 8:28 am

      We need to replace it with a statue of the Mayer with his head up his ass

  9. Avatar

    Barbara Foellmi

    July 17, 2020 at 9:58 am

    HISTORY is being removed. Let’s continue and remove Miss Forward off the top of the State Capitol! Shame.

  10. Avatar

    Beth

    July 17, 2020 at 10:34 am

    Keep Hiawatha, ditch Kabat

  11. Avatar

    Linda

    July 19, 2020 at 8:43 am

    Why don’t you let the people in the county make this decision. I hate to see it go, to me it is honoring the heritage of this area. This is a sad day go LaCrosse.

  12. Avatar

    Jeff Blakeley

    July 19, 2020 at 10:51 am

    Of course the statue is voted to be removed. The Park Board commissioners are non-elected lackies appointed by the mayor. This is how Socialism works. Get used to it.

  13. Avatar

    Roxanne

    July 20, 2020 at 5:49 pm

    The removal is so sad! Apparently a Casino in place of it would show the most representation!

  14. Avatar

    Stacy

    November 8, 2020 at 11:08 pm

    It seems to be a blending of different tribes. That is what made Hiawatha great. I grew up with it. Used to sit at his feet when I was sad. Shame to only hear the voices of one tribe or small group of people speaking on behalf of a tribe. Let the people of the town decide. Shame….I loved Hiawatha. He was like a leader protecting the people or so I thought as a child growing up in that racist town. Farewell my friend…

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