There’s no shortage of people who wish to share their thoughts about the “Hiawatha” statue in La Crosse’s Riverside Park.
But to find a solution about the statue’s continued place in our community, we truly need a willingness to listen.
Since 1961, the 25-foot statue has had an honored spot in Riverside Park overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi, Black and La Crosse rivers.
Fans of the statue say it honors our Native American heritage, and staunchly defend the artist as someone who was nothing but respectful toward Native Americans. No one is questioning the artist’s intent.
But critics emphasize times change and cultural acceptance does, too. There was a time when comedians made careers of poking fun at drinking problems and mental illness. Today, neither are considered amusing.
Complicating matters is that, regardless of how kitschy the statue may appear today to some people, it is a piece of art.
That’s why La Crosse’s Arts Board is looking at the issue. As board member Dick Record said during a recent hearing: “I’m not sure how you erect art — whether you hang it on the wall or put it in the park — and expect to please everybody, because that ain’t gonna happen. … The artist did it with great intent, and I don’t know if we should have the ability to control that, because you’re controlling creativity, and I don’t think that’s a great idea.”
That’s a fair point.
Another fair point comes from Shaundel Spivey, chairman of the La Crosse Human Rights Commission, who 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 has 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.
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.
As a community, we must make sure that more voices are part of the conversation.