Several years ago, my grandson and I were standing across the street from the statue of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea, in downtown Charlottesville.
“Who is that woman with those men?” he asked.
This afforded me an opportunity to explain the indispensable role that Sacagawea played in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I told him that without her knowledge of the land and the tribes encountered, and her tracking, path-finding skills, the expedition would not have succeeded in opening up the Northwest.
His response: “Wow, she was really something.”
Sadly, as the result of the uninformed, ill-advised decision by the Charlottesville City Council to remove this statue, apparently deeming it “demeaning” to Sacagawea and, by association, all Native Americans, no more conversations of this nature will occur.
Think of the countless lost opportunities to understand and explain the role that Sacagawea played in American history. And, why? How could any reasonable interpretation of this statue result in the conclusion that, along with the George Rogers Clark statue at the University of Virginia, it depicted “state violence” against American Indians — or that it served to symbolize the subservient nature of Sacagawea? Instead, this Indian woman was depicted doing what she did brilliantly doing the entire journey westward-finding the path forward for two men who were so heavily dependent on her extraordinary skills.
The removal of statues erected for the purpose of intimidating and denigrating any segment of American society is understandable. Conversely, the City Council’s decision to remove Sacagawea from her place in the history of the nation and, importantly, the Charlottesville community, is simply incomprehensible. Perhaps this is why they have offered no rational and convincing explanation for their doing so.
David E. Graham