The Charlottesville City Council is seeking proposals to remove a statue commemorating Lewis and Clark because of its ‘problematic’ positioning of the Native American tracker Sacagawea.
The decision was made by officials in the Virginia city on Thursday, after local protesters claimed they were offended by the monument, which has stood in place since 1919.
According to 13 News Now, council members consulted with Native Americans and some of Sacagawea’s descendants before making their decision.
Explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are two of American history’s most famous historical figures, known for conducting a two-year expedition across the country’s west between 1804 and 1806.
For part of that journey, they were accompanied by Sacagawea – a Shoshone woman who helped the men navigate difficult terrain and make important cultural contacts along their route.
The Charlottesville statue depicts Lewis and Clark standing tall and brandishing rifles, while Sacagawea is seen crouching down in what some say is a more ‘subservient’ position.
The Charlottesville City Council is seeking proposals to remove a statue commemorating Lewis and Clark because of its ‘problematic’ positioning of the Native American tracker Sacagawea
Those defending that monument argue that Sacagawea’s positioning is not intended to be demeaning, but is actually a realistic depiction of a pose she likely adopted for much of the expedition.
As a tracker, Sacagawea would often have been crouching down and on her hands and knees, surveying the land and working to identify plants and berries to eat and use as medicine.
Former US Congressman Bob Barr slammed the decision, writing on Twitter: ‘The City of Charlottesville truly is governed by fools. They now are removing a statue of Lewis and Clark because – get this – they see a crouching Sacagawea figure as subservient when in fact she is crouching down because she is tracking (that is, leading) the explorers.’
Others concurred, with one writing: ‘There appears to be no end to this madness/stupidity.’
THE LEWIS AND CLARK EXPEDITION 1804 -1806
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are best known for their expedition across the American west from 1804 until 1806.
Lewis and Clark were both of British descent and born on plantations in Virginia. The pair met while serving in the US Army around 1800, where they both become prominent members.
Lewis rose to the rank of captain, while Clark was a commanding officers.
Lewis was noticed by President Thomas Jefferson, who commissioned him for an expedition across the American west with the aim of exploring and mapping the largely uncharted territory, which had just been acquired in the Louisiana Purchase.
He recruited Clark to share command of the expedition.
In May 1804, Lewis and Clark set out from St. Charles, Missouri crossing through modern-day Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.
In November of 1804, in what is now presently known as North Dakota, the pair met Sacagawea – a 17 year old Shoshone woman married to a French Canadian trader by the name of Toussaint Charbonneau.
Charbonneau had been hired by Lewis and Clark to work as a translator, and Scagawea was six months pregnant at the time.
Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste, was born in February 1805, two months before she joined Lewis and Clark on their continuing expedition up the Missouri River.
The presence of the female tracker and her baby son made the white men’s expedition appear less threatening to Native American tribes they encountered along the way.
Sacagawea – who was bilungual – also proved instrumental in translating languages for Lewis and Clark.
In one diary entry, Clark called Sacagawea his ‘pilot’, and she helped navigate the expedition through a mountain pass through Montana to the Yellowstone River.
Sacagawea was also a skilled naturalist, helping to collect plants, roots and berries for medicinal purposes.
The expedition reached the Pacific Ocean in modern day Washington state in 1806. Lewis and Clark successfully achieved their objective of establishing legal claim to the land.
At the conclusion of the journey, Sacagawea returned with her husband and son to their settlement in North Dakota.
Her husband received received 320 acres of land and $500 for his work, but Sacagawea was not compensated for her services.
Today, however, she is one of the most revered women in US history, appearing on both stamps and coins.
She is known for her bravery and tenacity and the instrumental part she played in staking America’s legal claim to the western half of the country.
While Lewis and Clark have similarly been revered, contemporary historians are paying particular attention to more complicated aspects of their biographies.
Clark was a slaveholder, whose slave, York, was present on the Lewis and Clark expedition.
According to historians, York was an essential member of the expedition and repeatedly asked for his freedom following the conclusion of the journey. Lewis denied his request.
Charlottesville has been in the national spotlight in recent years due to fierce debates over whether or not to remove other statues in the city.
Back in 2017, the City Council voted to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee – a move which subsequently sparked a violent Unite The Right rally later that year.
That statue remains in place, however, following a number of legal challenges.
Last year, a circuit court judge declared that the statue cannot be removed without permission from the state because it meets classification as a ‘memorial for war veterans’. A such, the judge ruled, it is protected by Virginia law.
However, complaints about the Lewis and Clark statue have little in common with complaints directed toward the Lee memorial.
Instead, they more closely resemble criticisms made about an Abraham Lincoln statue in Washington, D.C. and a Theodore Roosevelt statue erected outside New York City’s Museum of Natural History.
The Emancipation Memorial features Lincoln standing tall as a freed slave kneels at his feet
While critics of those statues say they do not take issue with the moral character of the men depicted, they decry the subservient positioning of people of color that also appear in the monuments.
The Emancipation Memorial features Lincoln standing tall as a freed slave kneels at his feet, while the Roosevelt statue sees the former president sitting proudly on horseback as a black man and a Native American chief stand subserviently alongside him.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio claimed the Roosevelt statue ‘explicitly depicts Black and Indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior’.
The Roosevelt statue will be removed, whilst the Lincoln statue remains in place.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio claimed the Roosevelt statue ‘explicitly depicts Black and Indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior’