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Glen Jenkins: Hiawatha's removal should promote healing

Glen Jenkins: Hiawatha's removal should promote healing

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Hiawatha, the 25-foot-foot tall, 20-ton cement statue, was placed in Riverside Park on October 10, 1961. On Monday, workers began to remove it.

Now is an opportunity to begin a journey of healing. A society can only move forward with understanding, compassion and knowledge of the past.

Treaties between the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) and the United States of America started in 1812. As the white people found value in the natural resources and agricultural land on the reservations, treaties were voided and new ones written. The treaties ceded land from the Ho-Chunk to the United States for reasons of mining, agriculture and white settlement.

The U.S. government did not honor the treaties. Many of the people in charge of the reservations did not distribute the money or goods in a timely manner.

In some cases, they kept and used these resources for their own well-being. Many of the Ho-Chunk starved to death from a lack of food. During the winter months they were promised blankets to keep warm but they were not distributed. Often they were moved from reservation to reservation and unable to establish proper shelter.

Andrew Myrick, brother of La Crosse’s Nathan Myrick, was a trader on the Lower Sioux Agency in southwest Minnesota.

In August 1862, the Dakota people were desperate for food and wanted the traders to sell them food on credit. The U.S. government was involved in a Civil War at the time and treaty payments to the Dakota were not made.

Andrew Myrick is credited with saying, “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass.”

The Dakota people went to war against the white settlers. It ended on Dec. 26, 1862, when 38 Dakota people were hanged in Mankato in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Murdered because they wanted to feed their families.

The Treaty of 1837 ordained that the Ho-Chunk were to be removed west of the Mississippi River. One of the jobs of the U.S. Dragoons was to move the Ho-Chunk out of Wisconsin and west of the Mississippi River.

Many of the Ho-Chunk were brought to La Crosse to be put on paddleboats and taken to St. Paul, Minnesota. From there, they were put on trains and taken to reservations in Nebraska, Minnesota and South Dakota.

Knowledge of the removal helps to understand the impact it had on the Ho-Chunk people. Having knowledge is one thing, but how would one feel if this happened to them? How would I feel if someone took my children away from me? How would I feel if I was forced off my land? What would I feel about the government’s empty promises? What would I think if my father and brothers were enslaved to work in lead mines? How would I feel if my freedom was stolen from me?

Knowing the pain and suffering that the whites put the Ho-Chunk through and the deception of the government should change our thinking.

It can’t be ignored or forgotten that white people have taken your land, starved you, made false promises, taken your children away and attempted to destroy your culture and way of life.

These were the arguments for keeping Hiawatha: It makes white people feel good to have an idealized image to honor Native Americans.

Tourism will put money in the pockets of white businessmen. When I was a child my white parents took my picture in front of it. It helps white people ignore the atrocities inflicted on the Native Americans. Future white people will want their picture in front of this false icon.

This type of recognition is empty and lacks understanding of what really took place. It is racism and should stop. My white friends would say that happened years ago and they had nothing to do with that. Why are they being blamed for something they had nothing to do with?

No one is blaming white people today for something that took place years ago. What is being asked is to show respect and understanding of the history and the atrocities that took place in regards to the Ho-Chunk and other Native Americans.

This all comes down to a lack of understanding and appreciation for the differences that are found in all of the people around the world.

What causes us to fear the differences that exist between the cultures? Why do we need to turn the differences that exist into hate? When will we celebrate these differences and work to make the world a better place for everyone?

Glen Jenkins resides in La Crosse.

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