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Indigenous people’s garden plan for Riverside Park gets 1st approval from La Crosse park board



Betsy Thunder, born in the mid-1800s, seen here, would be the centerpiece of an Indigenous People's Garden in Riverside Park

Money raising efforts could start soon for a new section in La Crosse’s International Friendship Gardens.

A possible layout of the Indigenous People’s Garden planned for Riverside Park.

The city’s park board has voted in favor of an Indigenous people’s garden concept to be placed near the dock of the La Crosse Queen in Riverside Park.

The president of the friendship gardens, Chuck Hanson, said during the meeting that the garden would feature a metal sculpture of Betsy Thunder, who was a medicine woman for the Ho-Chunk nation.

The Betsy Thunder sculpture would weigh about 400 pounds. Sculptor Dennis Downs has been chosen for the project. Hanson is starting fundraising for the estimated $300,000 cost of the garden proposal.

“She’s gonna be on a blanket, with her hand outstretched, in a healing gesture,” Hanson told the board late last week. “I think it’s a very powerful thing that they’re suggesting because they’ve explained to me that they want to express they’re part of the community, and this is part of healing.”

Hanson added that Ho-Chunk was given the task of deciding what would be placed in the Indigenous garden.

He said this is a good time for such a garden to be developed because “the old cement Indian is down,” referring to the Hiawatha statue, which was removed from the riverfront in 2020, after standing on that spot for about 60 years.

There were many protests about Hiawatha over the years, mainly criticizing the statue as a caricature of Native Americans.

A final city hall vote on the garden plans could happen as soon as January.

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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  1. R head

    November 20, 2023 at 8:26 am

    Will there be any slot machines in the garden the payout could be good

  2. Bob N.

    November 20, 2023 at 8:27 am

    For the record, the “many protests” allegedly over the towering Hiawatha statue came mainly from one Ho-Chunk woman. Her objections were dwarfed by the thousands of tourists who photographed the statue with their children. But, forward we go, and I wish the new depiction and park well.

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