This week, 6/19

We’re a city that can’t seem to escape our statues, and at Monday’s City Council meeting they were on the agenda again—this time, the West Main monument to Lewis and Clark, with the figure of Sacagawea at the men’s feet, either cowering or tracking.

Paul Goodloe McIntire, who commissioned the statue in 1917, had only asked for Lewis and Clark, but noted New York sculptor Charles Keck “threw in the Indian,” as McIntire put it, and he was pleased. I’ve heard it suggested that this addition may actually have been meant as some kind of feminist gesture, at a time when public monuments tended to exclusively depict men.

Regardless of the original intent, at Monday’s meeting a Crow Creek Sioux man echoed previous complaints about Sacagawea, calling the depiction of her “demeaning.” A local Native resident said her children asked her why Sacagawea was scared, and sad.

Her words recalled a story that former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu told at the book festival here in March. Landrieu realized his city’s Confederate monuments had to go, he said, when he thought about a black parent having to explain to their child why a statue of someone who would have enslaved them was still standing in the center of the city.

Since the Lewis and Clark statue must be moved as part of the upcoming West Main streetscape project, it’s been suggested that City Council put it in an entirely different location, like the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center.

On the one hand, such a gesture, like commemorating the end of slavery instead of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday (which also came up at the meeting), does nothing to tangibly change current-day inequities. On the other, it’s a way of broadcasting what matters to us as a city.

Our culture changes over time, and the meaning we ascribe to public monuments changes, too. It’s okay to adjust.