VIA FLICKR/Bob Travis
In July, Charlottesville, Virginia removed its statue of Lewis and Clark over its depiction of Sacagawea.
St. Charles Mayor Dan Borgmeyer tuned into the news one July evening and found something he thought would be a great addition to his city: a statue of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. But after beginning a GoFundMe campaign
— which is now sitting at $915 of a targeted goal of $50,000 — to bring the statue to St. Charles, the city now faces backlash.
At issue is the depiction of the Native American guide Sacagawea, who appears in a crouched position next to the two upright explorers, who face forward looking out toward their next destination. Critics, including descendants of the Native Americans
, say the statue puts her in a subservient role to the white explorers.
That’s not what the mayor sees.
In an interview with Riverfront Times
, Borgmeyer argued that the statue is a reflection of Sacagawea's role in the expedition: a tracker, a guide and interpreter. Borgmeyer says he thinks the sculptor, Charles Keck, meant to depict Sacagawea in this way, as well.
St. Charles is "very much a Lewis and Clark city," the mayor said. The city of St. Charles hosts several references to the men due to their travels beginning there, including statues, a restaurant named after them and a museum detailing their expedition. That's why Borgmeyer wants the statue.
The mayor added that while Sacagawea’s position could offend some people, he argues that this perspective is actually offensive toward the two explorers.
“That denigrates Lewis and Clark, that they had this woman at their feet and she was subservient to them. And there’s nothing of that sort,” Borgmeyer says. “There was nothing subservient, she wasn’t kneeling at their feet, she was simply showing them the way west. And that’s why we’d like to have the statue.”
However, descendants of Sacagawea don’t view the statue in Borgmeyer's way.
In notes from the Charlottesville City Council’s November 2019 meeting
, a Native American panel spoke about the depiction of Sacagawea. The panel met as discussions about the removal of monuments of Confederate generals
were going on.
Rose Ann Abrahamson, one of Sacagawea’s direct descendants who traveled to Charlottesville from Idaho to speak at the meeting, said she had seen statues of her ancestor all around the country. But, the one in Charlottesville was “the worst that the family has seen and she was shocked when she saw it,” according to the meeting notes.
Dustina Abrahamson told the council the first time she saw the statue “it brought shame and made her ‘feel sadness and worthlessness.’” Another member of the family, Willow Abrahamson, said the statue depicts a lie and minimized Sacagawea’s contributions.
Multiple representatives from other Native American tribes spoke to the council members as well, asking for the statue to be removed. Answering a question from a council member, another of Sacagawea’s descendants Rose Ann George said she would respect the movement of the statue to a local Lewis and Clark exploratory center with the addition of extra context, showing the truth of Sacagawea’s contributions.
St. Charles residents on Facebook have joined in on the discussion after several posts of flyers toting for citizens to help "save the statue." Some commented and said while the sentiment behind honoring Sacagawea is appreciated, it needs to be done in a different manner.
“We'd love to have a statue of Sacagawea, but she should be shown in the way she deserves, NOT this statue,” one comment reads. “If you really wanted to honor her, commission a new one.”
Other comments reject the statue as a “disgrace to Indigenous women” and call on the city to stop posting about the statue, since the comments overwhelmingly do not support it.
Borgmeyer said there is a descendant of Sacagawea, a great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter, living in St. Charles and “is endorsing” the city’s ability to try and acquire the statue.
“My contention is that the statue has been there 100 years,” Borgmeyer explains. “How come the granddaughter and the great-great-great-granddaughter didn’t object to it for 100 years and now the great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter comes along and says it's offensive?”
In the notes from the Charlottesville city council, the descendants explained that now-twelve years ago, when a plaque was added to contextualize the statue, there was an unwillingness to even consider a move.
Ultimately, the council voted to remove the statue, making it the third statue to be removed
by the city after those of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.
If St. Charles City wants the statue, it will have to comply with conditions set by the Charlottesville city council
. Borgmeyer noted that the proposal forms provided by the city’s manager include a requirement that the winning bidder must have a goal to re-contextualize the statue “and provide a narrative highlighting Sacagawea and her contributions and not the cowering individual depicted in the sculpture.” He said the form also mentions the local Lewis and Clark exploratory center wants the statue, calling the center “the proposal to beat.”
“So, I don't know what all the hubbub is about,” Borgmeyer added. “They took it down and now their Lewis and Clark center wants to put it back up.”
Per Charlottesville's city manager, Borgmeyer said, no money is needed to request for the statue, but it helps. The mayor explained he didn’t want to commit taxpayer dollars to the statue, so he started the GoFundMe campaign to raise funds and to act as a barometer to gauge if the public wants the statue or not.
If the city wins the bid, a local ironwork contractor has committed to putting the statue up for free. The city also is looking for a local long haul transportation company to transfer the statue from Charlottesville to St. Charles at no cost.
Charlottesville will decide what city will be receiving the statue in September or October, Borgmeyer said, unless they decide to keep it locally. If St. Charles does end up with the statue, the city is floating three separate placements: at the entrance of the historic district, the center of a roundabout near their convention center or in the Frenchtown district of St. Charles.
Borgmeyer said if the GoFundMe proves unsuccessful and the bid is lost, the money collected will be returned to the donors. If the bid is successful but comes up short of the amount required and no contractors step up to haul the statue for free, the city may be willing to fund the transport. Borgmeyer stressed he doesn’t want to put any of the burden on taxpayers for the statue.
“To be honest with you, I believe that the statue would be good for the city, but from another standpoint, I’m kind of neutral,” Borgmeyer said. “Whatever the people decide is fine by me.”
Follow Jenna on Twitter at @writesjenna. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
St. Charles is currently home to this statue of Lewis and Clark. The statue sits in Frontier Park next to the riverfront.
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