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La Crosse Tribune editorial board: It's past due to move Hiawatha
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La Crosse Tribune editorial board: It's past due to move Hiawatha

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We’ve editorialized repeatedly about the need to find compromise and do the right thing with the Hiawatha statue in La Crosse’s Riverside Park.

We’ve had years to debate it and find compromise.

And yet it still stands in a prominent spot as a 25-foot reminder that nothing has happened.

More than ever, the right thing is to move it from its nearly 60-year home at the confluence of three rivers.

Like the Washington Redskins logo, it’s time to retire Hiawatha.

Here’s part of what we wrote in a 2017 editorial:

“No one is questioning the artist’s intent.

But critics emphasize that times change and cultural acceptance does, too. There was a time when comedians made careers out of poking fun at drinking problems and mental illness.

Today, neither are considered amusing.

Shaundel Spivey, chairman of the La Crosse Human Rights Commission, asked: ‘Why is just the thought of it being taken down, remodeled and reframed hurting so many people’s feelings who it doesn’t even represent?’

Of course, anything that’s been around for more than a half-century, taking up a visible spot and serving as the backdrop for countless family photos, is bound to have sentimental value to some. Think how people reacted when the World’s Largest Six-Pack got new labels.

Clearly, there won’t be a solution that makes everyone happy — and maybe that’s asking too much.

But it’s not asking too much to involve more people and other cultures — especially the Ho-Chunk who are indigenous - in discussions of the best ways to go forward.

This should be the start of valuable, ongoing discussions that lead to increased sensitivity about cultural diversity on this and many other issues facing our community.”

That was 2017. And nothing happened.

In 2018, we wrote an editorial when it looked like compromise was possible, stating in part:

“Here’s hoping it can become a symbol of compromise, an example of what can happen when all parties get together to discuss solutions instead of grievances.

Maybe forging a collaborative approach to moving the Hiawatha statue can serve as a model for a variety of challenges our region faces.

As Ho-Chunk Nation member Tracy Littlejohn said, moving and preserving the statue ‘is 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. ... It’s not appropriate anymore, but I can appreciate wanting to keep that preserved.’”

That was in 2018. And nothing happened.

Frankly, the debate has gone on for decades in our community — and it’s gone on long enough.

The only way something will happen is to take it down and store it for family and fans of the artist and his art to find a suitable place on private property for Hiawatha.

For all of those filled with nostalgia for the statue, we recommend starting a fund to pay the city’s $14,000 cost of storage so the bill doesn’t get passed along to taxpayers.

Mayor Tim Kabat urged the city’s Board of Park Commissioners Monday to remove the statue, stating: “It is time. Communities across our nation are facing the symbols from their pasts and making decisions about how to heal and move forward.”

While the family of artist and longtime Central High School art teacher Anthony Zimmerhakl will never agree with that, it’s worth noting that son-in-law Tim Slonka told the Tribune: “In these times we’re living in now, it’s probably time.”

Kabat agrees that the timing is right.

We agree.


Mayor calls for removal of controversial Hiawatha statue from Riverside Park in La Crosse
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