December 01, 2008

Massasoit statue in Utah

Some question if statue should be returned to the CapitolUtah's most visible symbol of Thanksgiving is missing in action, at least temporarily. It's a statue that had a prominent spot on Capitol Hill for many years.

The statue is coming back soon to be re-installed, but an interesting argument has risen about whether that's a good idea.

You may remember the statue of an Indian chief that stood prominently at the top of State Street. It was removed during the long Capitol renovation project. Now the question is: Why honor a Massachusetts Indian in a state named after the Utes?

Chief Massasoit is temporarily cooling his heels in Lehi. In the next few weeks, the statue will be re-installed on a new base at the main east entrance to the Utah State Capitol.

"We wanted to make sure we had placed it in a significant and important location that was both good for the statue and good for the people," said David Hart, architect of the Capitol renovation.

But Utah Navajo Tom Lovell is not eager to see the statue come back. Chief Massasoit lived in Massachusetts, not Utah.

"It would be like having a picture of the governor of Massachusetts in the rotunda with the Utah governor. It doesn't make any sense. It would be like having a statue of the Pope on Temple Square," Lovell said.

He thinks the capitol should honor Utah Indians. "I mean, you could pick five of the different tribes, but the Ute tribe ought to be here," he said.
Comment:  Here are some alternatives listed in best-to-worst order:

1) Put up a statue to a Utah Indian instead of a Massachusetts Indian.

2) Put up a multitribal display that honors Utah's Indians or all Indians.

3) Put up a statue of Massasoit that's historically accurate. This statue looks like thousands of other stereotypical statues. Surround it with the multitribal display.

4) Put up a historically accurate statue of Massasoit alone.

5) Put up the existing statue of Massasoit but surround it with the multitribal display.

6) Put up the existing statue of Massasoit but add a plaque explaining what it's doing there and how it has nothing to do with Utah history.

7) Put up the existing statue of Massasoit alone. (This is presumably the default "solution.")

8) Put up nothing. (Sometimes no honor is better than a flawed honor, but a stereotypical Massasoit statue still may educate someone.)

To see a video on the subject, follow the link. For more on the subject, see Best Indian Monuments to Topple.


Anonymous said...

"Carved in Stone " -

If the statue that is pictured is of Massasoit, then it is simply one more pathetic example of how desperately non-Indians cling to their (generic) Indian iconography.

In this case, any Indian will do. How the physical placement of this statue affects the Indian population of that city, or of the entire state or region for that matter, is most likely of absolutely no consequence to the local government that controls the ultimate fate of Massasoit. They have "their Indian," so that's all that really matters.

But then again, Utah (I worked there in 1988) is one WEIRD state with a lot of really weird people if you've ever been there.

Anonymous said...

Massasoit isn't some random Native American that stands outside of the Capital just so the residents can get in their dose of the stereotypical Native American. He actually has a purpose that, if people stopped to take the time, would be realized.

Massasoit was friendly with the settlers in Massachusetts and helped them when they struggled to survive in this foreign land. Take what you want from the history of Massasoit, but he's more than just some Native American, and should have a purpose to those outside of Massachusetts.

Utah is what you decide to make of it, and what stereotypes you decide to play in to. By the way, 1988 was a while ago.

Anonymous said...

The Native Americans here also frequently helped the Mormon pioneers. They very freely shared their knowledge of wild foods and medicines with the new arrivals who struggled with the hostile environment. Therefore there is little real need to hold up Massasoit as an example of friendly relations between whites and Indians when we have plenty of local examples to draw on.

However...the problem may be that most Utahns know very little about early Mormon-Indian interactions, let alone any individual figures as with Massasoit. For a state whose dominant religion claims to have a special connection with Native Americans, coverage of Utah's own Native American history as a whole is desperately lacking (too much that casts a bad light on the Mormon Church?). While there were many brave and admirable Native American figures throughout Utah history, their mention in Utah folklore has less to do with their deeds and more to do with how good of a Mormon they later became (often after decades of resistance). So having an outsider represent the perfect benevolent Indian/White relationship then makes a kind of sick sense.