Indigenous Perspectives on the Sacred 2018
Faculty: Brian O’Flanagan, Ceylan Isgor, Kevin Locke, Richard Hainsworth
In the Fall of 2018, Chahbaz Azarkadeh, a student in the 2018 iteration of the Wilmette Institute course Indigenous Perspectives on the Sacred, shared information about a controversy that had erupted in Plattsburg, New York, USA. The controversy involved a one hundred year old statue of Samuel de Champlain and the depiction of a Native American—purportedly a representation of the Mohawk nation—kneeling at the base of the statue.
The objections raised by the Champlain Statue Working Group examining the place of the monument in “remembering Native Americans” were several:
- Champlain, who established New France in North America and the city of Quebec, stands proudly at the top of the monument, while the Native American kneels near the base of the monument—that is, the conqueror is at the top of the monument; the conquered, at the base of the monument.
- The depiction of the Native American is wrong. He is neither Mohawk nor Iroquois (two of five tribes united in the Iroquois confederacy). Rather he is more like a stereotypical Plains Indian from the Dakotas. The headdress and moccasins are not what a Mohawk Indian would have worn.
Chabaz sent a link to a report on the WCAX3-TV station, a “CBS-affiliated television station licensed to Burlington, Vermont, United States, serving Northern Vermont’s Champlain Valley and Upstate New York’s North Country, including Plattsburg.” The TV station reported that “The City Council [of Plattsburg] approved acknowledging the issues by posting a plaque by the statue. The report also quoted Pastor Gregory Huth, a member of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and a member of the Working Group:
We would still like to remember the greatness of Champlain and all the accomplishment he did at that very difficult time but also give due to the people who took such good care of the land for 11,000 year before the Europeans arrived.
The proposed plaque, according to the TV report, “will be funded with private donations through the Champlain Statue Working Group, not taxpayer dollars.” While the solution does not resolve all the problems with the statue, the consultation does move the discussion and concerns about appropriate acknowledgment of Native Americans in the right direction.