Ho-Chunk Nation members, the artist's family members and city officials met earlier this week to discuss what it would take to move the "Hiawatha" statue off city land.

The controversial “Hiawatha” statue in Riverside Park could get a new home.

City officials, members of the Ho-Chunk Nation and relatives of the statue’s creator talked about possibilities to move the statue to private property earlier this week at a meeting hosted by La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.

Mayor Tim Kabat


“The big point, and one I think that everybody is in agreement about, is the desire to preserve the statue because of the fact that it was created by an artist. Regardless of whether people wanted to keep it in place or see it relocated — the statue should be preserved,” Kabat said.

Exactly what the relocation process would look like is uncertain, although Kabat said it would need approval by the city’s parks board. Preliminary estimates by the city’s engineering department peg the cost to move the statue at about $50,000.

“I do think, in my opinion, respecting the family’s desires is a good thing and would be a way to help the whole community heal up,” Kabat said.

The debate over the statue, which began in 2000, reignited in December during a listening session co-hosted by the La Crosse Arts Board and the Human Rights Commission to discuss public art and social justice. Several people spoke out against the 25-foot sculpture that has stood at the north end of the park since 1961, arguing that, regardless of the intentions of the artist, the late Anthony Zimmerhakl, it represents a caricature of indigenous people.

Zimmerhakl’s son-in-law, Tim Slonka, spoke on behalf of the family, saying they would be open to some sort of compromise that would relocate the statue to private property.

“Ideally, we would like it to stay where it is, but in the long term ... it probably would be better that we would like it preserved, however we need to get that done,” Slonka said.

Slonka and his family have received a lot of support during the past few months, particularly from extended family members and Zimmerhakl’s former students. Slonka said it’s clear the statue strikes a chord for a lot of people.

“We could win this fight. We probably, we think, could win it pretty easily. However, in 10 to 20 years, with a different mayor, different council members, nobody would be around to defend it,” Slonka said.

If the debate were ignited again, he wasn’t so confident the statue would make it through intact.

“Then who knows? Then it might hit the wrecking ball, and we don’t want that to happen,” Slonka said.

Local business leaders have stepped up to offer help finding a place for the statue, making sure that although it would be on private property it would still be available for people to see.

“Nothing has been decided on that, one way or the other,” Slonka said.

For Ho-Chunk Nation member Tracy Littlejohn, the ideal situation would be a group of private community members stepping forward to remove the statue from Riverside Park.

“I think it’s a great compromise. That way there’s less hurt for the family, because I don’t want them to feel like I’m out to destroy their family’s artwork legacy,” Littlejohn said.

However, “Hiawatha” is a product of its time, she said, when very little in American culture accurately depicted Native Americans.

You have free articles remaining.

Become a Member

Register for more free articles.
Stay logged in to skip the surveys.

“It’s not appropriate anymore, but I can appreciate wanting to keep that preserved,” Littlejohn said.

If the statue is moved to private land, the family would have more control over it, and it would no longer by in a heavily trafficked public park, reinforcing misconceptions of who Ho-Chunk people are.

“For me, the reason I want it not to be there is because it can be harmful for young people and their cultural identity,” Littlejohn said.

While the Ho-Chunk Nation itself has remained neutral, local members of the Ho-Chunk Nation and others have spoken out against the statue, calling it insulting and kitschy in the vein of historical cigar store Indians. They argue that it reflects a disrespectful view of Native American culture that contributes to the mental health epidemic in indigenous children.


Ho-Chunk Nation members, the artist's family members and city officials met in July to discuss what it would take to move the "Hiawatha" statue off city land.

“It also doesn’t teach other people who are seeing it anything about our culture, our history. Native people, because of historical trauma, already are dealing with so much. There’s been a lot of forced assimilation, so a lot of young people haven’t had those positive influences to help them understand who they are as a Ho-Chunk, teach them their culture, teach them their history,” Littlejohn said.

Littlejohn, who works with indigenous children in middle and high school at the Ho-Chunk Nation Three Rivers House in La Crosse, said it is important for them to have a connection to their ancestors and history.

“While that statue isn’t their main influence, just to be able to get rid of the inaccurate portrayals can be helpful in helping us to strengthen their identity,” Littlejohn added.

In an ideal world, Littlejohn said, the First Nations people in the area would be incorporated into Riverside Park’s International Friendship Gardens, with a piece done by a Native American artist that respects their history and culture.

Slonka disputed the characterization of the statue as disrespectful to Native Americans and their heritage.

“You would have to know my father-in-law. It was never meant in a disrespectful manner. He’s an artist,” Slonka said.

Council member Gary Padesky was one of Zimmerhakl’s students who feels a strong connection to both the artist and his work.

“To me, it’s art, it’s history, it’s a legacy that should be preserved,” Padesky said.

Padesky acknowledged that it didn’t represent members of the Ho Chunk Nation, saying Zimmerhakl intended to take aspects from several tribes to create his piece.

“It never was meant to be representative of the Ho-Chunk Nation … It is just representative to him of the strength and beauty of Native Americans,” Padesky said.

However, Padesky said he would support a compromise the family agrees to, particularly if the cost to move the statue is covered by public and private funds, as well as money from the Ho-Chunk Nation.

Subscribe to Daily Headlines

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Jourdan Vian can be reached at jvian@lacrossetribune.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.



Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering crime and courts for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218 or jvian@lacrossetribune.com.

(63) comments

Comment deleted.
Buggs Raplin

I didn't know about my sex change, but now I do. Thanks johnny

Rs Ts

WOW. I think the name calling takes away from discussing the actual points.


You mean Grima Wormtongue?


Not so long ago we were told we has to be more open minded and broaden our opinions about art in public spaces. We were told to accept the big blue baby as art and move on. Seems like good advice now doesn't it O will miss Hiawatha. And nothing but a plaque should go in its place explaining why we could not possibly open our minds and broaden our opinions. We the good people who brought you the big blue baby.


The statue should be moved. Too bad we didn't have such persistent supporters for all the extraordinary architecture the city has demolished over the decades for parking lots and big box stores. Move on people. Much more artistic structures than this have been demolished in La Crosse. No matter the intent of the artist at the time, the actual consequences now cannot be disputed. If people are hurt by the thought that their poor statue must be removed, imagine the exponentially greater pain suffered by the thousands of Ho-Chunk people who were forcibly removed from their homeland here and moved from one state to another over and over again. Inagine the pain and frustration suffered by their ancestors having this giant cartoonish thing stuck in such a prominent place in our city. And why? Because a vocal minority can't let go of a piece of folk art (to be kind) whose time has come and gone. If you must have such dogged dedication to something, let it be to policies and programs that might actually help real people rather than to a lump of concrete.

Buggs Raplin

I don't get it. How can you link the removal of the statue to the destruction of all the architectural wonders that were destroyed through ignorance. Are you saying just because we were stupid and tore down the old city hall, the old courthouse, and the old library, we should move a statue that 'some' people think a 'cartoonish' thing. cathy, just because you and some of your leftist buddies think it disrespectful, doesn't mean we all do. You state we are a vocal minority. I disagree totally. You are in the minority. Again, a referendum should be held. Let's see who's in the majority on this issue.


Ahem. Buggs, nobody is suggesting the statue be destroyed in this plan. It would simply be moved to another, more appropriate site. Even the Ho Chunk are not suggesting it be destroyed.

Buggs Raplin

I don't usually reply to you, the Grima Wormtongue of the Tribune web site, but you had a short nonsensical comment. I made no comment..got that..I made no comment about the 'destruction' of the Big Indian statue. I just pointed out that her comment was illogical where she tries to connect the removal of the statue to the stupidity of our city fathers in the past tearing down such marvels as the county courthouse, the city hall, and the city library. cathyv thinks there's a correlation. I think she's gone off the deep end. I know, homey, that you have NO integrity, so I don't read your lengthy bullsh*t. I'm old. Why waste the time. You're a latter day Grima Wormtongue.


I reviewed your comments in this string, and you are correct. You made no mention of the destruction of the statue. My mistake. I apologize.

Now, do you see how it is done, Buggs? We all make mistakes, and when we are called on them, we acknowledge them and apologize for them. I haven't made many mistakes regarding you, but I have always apologized when I have. You, on the other hand, are a daily stream of lies and misinformation, and when I or other commenters on these boards point them out to you, I cannot recall you ever -- not once -- acknowledging you made an error. I might be wrong on that, but I can remember none. Instead, you run for the weeds and hide out there until the offending comment board ages out, then you return with the same lies and misinformation on later boards.


Much ado about nothing. Have you felt guilty for being white your whole life, cathy?


Have you ever not felt smug about your whiteness, mamasboy?


Smug about my whiteness, homey? I was ridiculed for the first 20 yrs of my life, until people began worrying about skin cancer, because of my extreme whiteness ( inability to tan ). I refused to wear shorts, and would rather sweat my tail off, than take a hard time about my lack of a tan. I deserve reparations for this. I now embrace the fact that I'm a "pale face". "Pale face", that's the racist term Indians thought up to describe us.


If Hiawatha and Zimmerhakl is to be erased from La Crosse, then why stop there?
Get rid if the name La Crosse, it is pro christian and in French Canada means gay sex.
If the name of the city is named after a game the game was called Baaga'adowe.
Get rid of the other 2 Indian statues of 3 Indian playing baaga'adowe.
Get rid of all street names with Indian names.
And all other references that could refer to racial origin of anyone.
Let's get rid of it all!


Canada in French means "gay sex"? Clyde, I suggest you wipe the spittle off your chin and calm down.


La Crosse: french "the Cross"
French Canadian slang: "gay sex"
upset not as nouveau as you thought?
your favorite form of recreation is called LaX?

Buggs Raplin

The article by Ms. Vian was biased in favor of removal. By labeling the statue 'controversial' she reveals that bias. I mean if just a few people, a small group of leftists object to something, does that make it controversial. Wasn't this issue debated and settled 18 years ago only to be revived in this unfortunate era of political correctness. Again, the decision to remove or not to remove should go to the people of La Crosse in a referendum*

* I assume the Chamber of Commerce will stick its big nose into this issue as it did on other city issues-the corridor and the La Crosse Center.


Do you, as a member of a tiny minority that says the Sandy Hook murder of tiny elementary school children and their teachers was a staged CIA event, wish now to retract your insinuation that the truth behind that massacre is "controversial", Buggs. I have a very long list, in fact, of events that you are in a tiny minority when it comes to facts of those cases. They are controversial, yes, but not for the reasons that you pretend to set forth in each of them.


Buggs apparently does not want to respond to comments that I make that fairly and correctly poke holes in his bizarre argumentative style. He seems to be in the weeds on this one, hiding from it.


Hiawatha was an Onondaga constitutional leader who United the Iroquois Nation. The fact the representation isn't an exact rendition of a known photograph of an Indian is not the fault of the statue, the artist or the location. The history of cigar store Indians, the history of general peaceful interaction of the Winnebago tribe and American settlers are the very reason for keeping the statue. Zimmerhakl was a teacher. Knocking it down or moving it to some alfalfa field does not make it a vehicle for learning. Tracy Littlejohn's ancestors are from Kentucky, the Winnebago move to Nebraska and Wisconsin in about 550 AD. There had to be current residents Littlejohn's ancestors dislocated, where is the history and respect to those displaced? She is still for erasing history, just like her ancestors.
My 30 year old children think of alcoholism, gambling, cheap buffets and the wish of riches without work when they see the word Ho-Chunk. So Ms Littlejohn should work on that history rather than trying to erase the tragic common history of European and Indigenous.


Nobody said they were moving it to some "alfalfa field". And if your children think of the Ho-Chunk that way maybe you weren't a very good parent. Maybe you should stick to trolling of Facebook.


Amen, caped. 'nuff said with your response.


To a farm in Caledonia, Mn.
Okay, maybe, corn, oats or soybeans.
You want sole trolling at the Tribune, I understand.
My children asked why at the end of Ho Chunk commercials people would need help with problem gambling? As a good parent would I explained the risks and positives of frequenting casinos.


This makes as much sense as your earlier comment, Clyde. Not much.


Clyde is a known Facebook troll. And his lack of parenting skills is obvious.


Can we hear about all the positives of frequenting casinos troll?


Intentions: the boys threw rocks at the frogs in jest but the frogs died in earnest. Or as the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Moving the statue is a good compromise because have you seen the condition of the streets and roads in La Crosse? It has a much better chance for long term survival on private property with private maintenance and upkeep.
If there were a statue display honoring Ole and Lena and that humor, even though it is well-intentioned and folksy and displays Norwegians as not being too smart, I'm sure there would be those who would want it left alone as well.
The Hiawatha statue is kitschy piece of art made with the best of intentions but that does not mean it needs to be displayed in the city's premiere park (where the road is also bad) forever.


amen, elocs.


Yes, it should be moved to the exit 3 eagle viewing site!


Don't you ever get tired of trolling?

Wi Fan

Didn't say exact, said similar and there are plenty of pictures.
https://isthmus.com/arts/stage/Ho-Chunk-Historic-Stand-Rock-Indian-Ceremonial-Dance/. This is just 1 of many pictures that you can find of present day celebrations.


How long will it be before someone is offended by the name of the city of La Crosse? Perhaps all images of Native Americans playing lacrosse should be deleted on the internet and in history books? Let's get rid of the La Crosse Queen, too, since slaves used to work on riverboats. Might as well get rid of the locomotive in Copeland Park as slaves also worked on the railroad. For many, it's called heritage not hatred. Why is that so hard to believe? La Crosse natives know what the Hiawatha stands for in this area. What about the blue egg baby? I have no idea where that art-form could fit in the history of La Crosse. Perhaps I should argue that I'm offended that the artist chose to make the baby blue or that the baby is trying to escape the imprisonment of an egg? I am offended that do-gooders come into our area and want to erase all history and heritage that my family has known for five generations.

Buggs Raplin

I remember about a year ago when the leftists were all up in arms about Confederate statues, Mayor Soglin had a conniption all of a sudden over the graves of Confederate soldiers buried in Madison. James Madison, of course was a slave owner, but Paul had no problem with that and made no move to re-name his city. By the by, the Civil War was fought over the unsettled question of state's rights, not slavery.


Spreading more lies and BS again, eh, Chippy?


Right, Buggs. Lincoln said the confederate states had no right to secede from the union in order to preserve the legality of keeping human slaves. He and the entire North felt so strongly about those principles, they went to war. They won. Slavery, to your eternal horror, apparently, was abolished from North America.

Buggs Raplin

Oh, is that why Lincoln had no objection to slavery in the southern states as long as they stayed in the union?


He offered that to avoid secession, but when the southern states seceded, anyway, the die was cast, the war was on and eventually the slaves were emancipated. Are you still angry that they were emancipated over your loud protestations that state's rights trump slavery? It was an institution on its way out, anyway, Buggs. Lincoln and the North knew that in time they would rid the North American continent of the scourge of slavery, but they were willing to try to do it without the war. The South thought otherwise.


CSB, so you have had five generations of your family trekking to Riverside Park to gaze up at the Hiawatha statue and drink in its profound history of native Americans. Pretty good trick for a statue that hasn't yet been there for 60 years. What lessons have you drawn from the statue? What lessons and history will the non-destruction of the statue will be erased if the statue is moved? Inquiring minds want to know.


No, the egg baby is art, the Mayor said so!
Hiawatha is not art, the Mayor said so!


You sure love our Mayor don't you troll?


Put a fence around it and give the land to some organization like they did the 10 commandments monument.


You show the typical brilliance of one of those "told ya so" characters. If you'd been there to referee the Civil War, it would have turned nuclear.

Wi Fan

Google: Ho-Chunk Pow Wow and look at the actual images of modern day celebrations...the images you will see are very similar to the statue in both appearance and dress.


I took your advice and looked, Wi, and didn't see anything resembling the gear worn by the Hiawatha statue, though there were a few full headdresses, though not many. Is there a specific site I should look at?




Anyone else see the irony of colonialism happening all over again here? White people got offended for the indigenous people and decided what to do about the statue. Meanwhile the Ho-Chunk nation are neutral to the issue.


The crux of this story is the reality that the Zimmerhakl family acknowledges. In 20 years, when nobody from the generation that remembers the artist is left, and when the public sees the statue for what it is, a handsome but over-sized cement cigar store Indian, it will almost certainly be pulverized. Put it someplace else where it is honored for being a period piece art artifact, not a bad one, just one that is mistaken in its attention.

I liked what Zim's son-in-law had to say about his father-in-law: "“You would have to know my father-in-law. It was never meant in a disrespectful manner. He’s an artist."

I had Zim as a teacher. I went to school with his boys. Zim absolutely was admiring and respectful of American Indian people and culture. He executed this sculpture entirely in good faith, as an expression of his admiration of those peoples and cultures. He was also a larger-than-life character who made a deep impression on hundreds and hundreds of students who stepped into his classrooms. I have nothing but respect for him, but I understand, too, how this piece of art has become problematic.

Rick Czeczok

Riding the fence never making a decision until it's over. You will go down as one of the greatest Monday morning quarterbacks of all time. AHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!


Hmm. Ricky, do you actually know what the expression "riding the fence" means? How about "Monday morning quarterback"? It would appear not. But that would surprise nobody, coming from you.

Rick Czeczok

That just proved it, you do have dumb that you haven't began to use.... Low life draft dodger. I bet your life long friend is so proud of how you stuck up for him. Now how about the question answered of where did you work. Or did you work? HHMMMM. That will tell someone who you are. No that's not going to happen as you have to many skeletons in your closet or closets. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA . You puke!


Zerocock, you promised on July 10 to leave these pages and not return for 7 years. Please stand by your word.

Melowese Richardson

Cassie: You said you were going on a diet. Please stand by your word. How's that coming along? I understand you only have to lose 30 more pounds to lose to reach your stated goal of losing 15 pounds. Great job. #metoonotachanceforcassie


Have another martini "Melowese".


Sorry, my comment should have said as a piece of period art, the statue is not a bad one, just one that is mistaken in its intentions.

Rick Czeczok

Ya you make a lot of those so you can retract at a later date. Where did you work in your life. Sounds like you should be a geneus with all your education. Must have had a very important job with a lot of people under you. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA


Oh, my!


The crux of the story is should there be a referendum on the November ballot, Hiawatha statue is art therefore must stay on Public display within the City of La Crosse with all care and restoration for inpurpetuity the responsibility of the Parks Dept. Yes or No.


Gee, I wonder where you stand on the issue troll.

Buggs Raplin

This is obviously an issue that the progressives/liberals will pursue in their political correctness obsession. I do not trust the mayor or the council on it. I especially don't trust the council and the 'Shameful 7' who voted to go into the park with the Center expansion. This issue must go to referendum. Let the people decide. It's that important. I am confident the statue will remain where it is, if the people of La Crosse are the determining factor.-Chip DeNure

Rick Czeczok

You think that a weird art design on a parking lot downtown is art, OK. You think that a blue headed egg baby is art so you display it in front of the city building, OK. But this figure in the park, that has been there forever is offensive and not art. Wait , what......??
Stop wasting my money!!!!!


PERFECT! Agree. Let’s look at it as art! Art is in the eye of the beholder and my eye see art

Buggs Raplin

Leave the statue where it is. This is just an effort from gullible leftists and their political correctness theology to rid La Crosse of its history. The statue is art, and though some Native Americans may object to it, I suspect many others do not. Mayor Kabat, spending some $50,000 for removal is a waste of our tax dollars, a total waste. -Chip DeNure


a total waste. -Chip DeNure


You ain"t no scholar.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.