A statue featuring explorers Capt. Meriwether Lewis and Second Lt. William Clark, along with Shoshone woman Sacagawea was removed from its location in Charlottesville, N.C., following an emergency special session and a unanimous vote from the city council on Saturday.
The quick and unexpected decision came not long after statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson were also removed from their locations in the city’s public parks, local reports noted.
In addition, the council agreed to earmark $1 million to relocate or cover all three statues, NBC 29 reported.
“The project follows the successful removals of the statues of two Confederate Generals this morning,” said Brian Wheeler, a city spokesman, in an email to media outlets.
“The completion of that work ahead of schedule has allowed the removal of the third statue, one which City Council has previously expressed a desire to have removed after a work session with Native American delegations in November 2019,” he added.
The council held meetings and work sessions in November 2019 with descendants of Sacagawea present to talk about the monument and what should be done with it. The Lewis and Clark guide’s descendants did not like the way the Shoshone woman was portrayed: The two American explorers are standing tall while she appears to be cowering at their feet, even though she led them in their journey.
Rose Abrahamson, one of Sacagawea’s descendants, called the artist’s depiction the “worst representation” she had seen, while adding that she was aware the statue was created in 1919. That was around the time the same benefactor, Paul Goodloe McIntire, had the Confederate monuments built.
“We all know it was during a time period of intolerance, misinformation, and discrimination,” Abrahamson said during the 2019 work sessions. “In addition, it was during a time period that governments elevated the achievements of dominant society’s heroes and their histories.”
In a recent Zoom meeting, the city council and Abrahamson consulted with Exploratory Center Executive Director Alexandria Searls, who said the center was interested in adding historical context to the statue in a new display.
“Our hope is to involve the Native American Student Alliance at [the University of Virginia] and have interpreters from their group and other groups to really have buy-in from many different people,” Searls said. “The way Shoshone would like the statue interpreted is of paramount importance.”
Abrahamson said she wanted the statue destroyed but seemed okay with the center’s plans to add more historical balance to it.
“As far as I’m concerned, it was a very offensive statue. Not only did it delineate me as a Native American but it delineated women and our role in society,” Abrahamson said.
“In my personal opinion I feel it should just be melted down … but if it can be utilized to give a greater message to educate the public, that would be an opportunity. So I am very pleased with what is taking place,” she added.
“With this statue in its depiction and being in a location where it’s not offensive, but yet in a location where it can educate the public to the missing or murdered indigenous women,” she added.
Some historians have argued that Sacagawea is crouching not to show inferiority but because she is engaged in her role as a tracker.
Sacagawea helped guide Lewis and Clark after they were commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to explore land the U.S. had bought from France known as the “Louisiana Purchase.”
The expedition, formally known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, began Aug. 31, 1803, and lasted until Sept. 25, 1806, when the expedition returned to St. Louis to report to Jefferson their findings.
Part of the expedition was to establish trade with the various Native American tribes, and Sacagawea, who was about 16 at the time and who traveled with Lewis and Clark from the North Dakota region to the Pacific Ocean, is credited with providing them with invaluable knowledge of the natural history in many regions of the newly purchased territory.
Lewis was born in Charlottesville’s Albemarle County.
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