June 20, 2009

Statue of crouching Sacagawea

Loo-loo cry:  Sacajawea gets a plaqueClose to a hundred people gathered at the foot of the Lewis and Clark statue at the intersection of Ridge and McIntire Streets this afternoon in a ceremony dedicating a plaque to Sacajawea, the Shoshone woman who accompanied Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on the first American expedition to the Pacific coast.

Responding to concerns that Sacajawea’s representation in the statue (which involved a “Miss Informed” beauty contest), crouched beneath the two men, inaccurately portrayed her importance to the expedition, the City commissioned the plaque, and invited two of Sacajawea’s descendants to author the text. The city also invited several of Sacajawea’s descendants from Idaho to today’s ceremony.
Beauty queens for SacagaweaMiss Representation and Miss Informed promenade the Downtown Mall seeking 500 signatures for a petition to correct the portrayal of Lewis and Clark guide Sacagawea in the statue at Ridge and West Main.

“We object to the sexist and inaccurate representation,” says Miss Informed (Kelly Silliman). “She’d never cower.”

Miss Representation (Jen Hoyt-Tidwell) has spoken before City Council, and the pair want due respect for and a proper accounting of the woman who, despite toting a newborn baby, assisted the L&C expedition to the Pacific.
Comment:  For starters, what is this statue doing in Charlottesville, Virginia? It's about as appropriate there as the Massasoit statue is in Salt Lake City. Maybe the two cities could trade. At least then the statues would be within a few hundred miles of their proper locations.

The ceremony was for a plaque added to the statue, not the statue itself. Here's the history of the statue:

Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea StatueThe statue of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea was sculpted by Charles Keck, who was a prominent sculptor of his day. The statue was commissioned by Paul Goodloe McIntire and given to the citizens of Charlottesville in 1919.

The statue represents not only the first public depiction of the famous Corps of Discovery in Charlottesville, but expresses the popular sentiments of the day towards the general themes of exploration, national purpose and conquest of the wilderness of North America.
In 1919, I guess we have to be thankful they included Sacagawea at all. But the statue clearly shows what they were thinking. The bold white men leading the way, the subservient Indian maiden at their feet, etc.

Instead of this, how about showing Sacagawea standing before the men and pointing the way? That is what she did, isn't it? This statue makes her look like a servant, slave, or concubine, not a guide.

At least Natives got to share their perspective via the plaque. I suggested something like that for the Massasoit statue, too. It wouldn't hurt if every statue of an Indian had an explanatory Native plaque added to it.

For more on the subject, see New Sacagawea Dollar Released and Visitor Center Has 5 Native Statues.

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