10 people whose statues should replace Columbus

In the U.S. Capitol, Sarah Winnemucca represents Nevada.

Mark Trahant

Statues of Columbus are starting to go away. What’s next? How do we make the stone-tablet version of our history more representative of the actual history * Updated

Mark Trahant

Indian Country Today

Around the world statues are coming down. Civil War generals. Mass murderers. And Christopher Columbus.

In every case there are far more stone monuments remaining than are removed. A survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center found some 1,800 named memorials honoring confederates. Add to that union generals. And military leaders from the American Revolution, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

The generals are men of course. One study said there is a “staggering lack of public statues of women.” A database in the New Statesman in the U.K. and the Washington Post in the U.S. found only 13 and 7 percent of statues in these countries depict historical women as opposed to historical men.

So what’s next? How do we make the stone-tablet version of our history more representative of the actual history?

Wednesday President Donald Trump nixed the idea of renaming military bases to make the country more reflective.

“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” Trump tweeted. “Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations. Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military.”

There are a few statues of American Indians and Alaska Natives spread out across the country. In fact: Some of the most representative locations are Congress and a few state legislatures. In the U.S. Capitol (standing alongside Andrew $%!* Jackson, colonizer Junipero Serra, would-be dictator Huey P. Long and missionary murder Marcus Whitman) there is Kamehameha I, Po’Pay, Will Rogers, Sakakawea, Sarah Winnemucca, Standing Bear Washakie and Sequoyah.

So at least 4 percent scoundrel (certainly could have added more names to that side of the ledger) and 8 percent Indigenous.

On top that there are 11 statues of Confederate leaders. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that states make that call. "They can trade them out any time,” McConnell said. “A number of states are trading them out now, but I think that’s the appropriate way to deal with the statue issue. The states make that decision.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked for the removal of the Confederate leaders from Statuary Hall.

Let’s play “what if?” What if the rest of the country was like that? Who should we be honoring?

Imagine the 20th century and the Native leaders that could be honored on civic plazas, in front of city halls or on university campuses. (Yes, there are a few now, but we are talking numbers. At least 2 percent of all the statues. And even better is the 7 percent goal set by Congress’ own example.)

The list could include:

Vine Deloria Jr., Standing Rock. It’s hard to chronicle Vine Deloria in terms of his importance to the country and to Native America. He was a thinker. An architect of change. And, always, a writer. When it comes to honoring the past, “Custer Died For Your Sins,” defines the possible. "Crazy Horse never drafted anyone to follow him. People recognized that what Crazy Horse did was for the best and was for the people," Deloria wrote. "When Crazy Horse was dying, having been bayoneted in the back at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, Crazy Horse said to his father, 'Tell the people it is no use to depend on me any more.'

"Until we can once again produce people like Crazy Horse, all the money and help in the world will not save us. It is up to us to write the final chapter of the American Indian upon this continent."

Deloria could have been writing about himself.

Lucy Covington, Colville. She was a rancher-turned-politician who led the fight against the failed policy of termination in the 1960s. Termination was an idea to save money by ending the federal government’s relationship with tribes. (She would sell a cow to pay her way to Washington.) One of the tools that she used in this fight: a tribal newspaper. She started Our Heritage, a newspaper with the mission of informing tribal members about the issues. She would lead a quiet campaign to quell what she called the "present fever and fervor for termination.”

Howard Rock, Inupiat. He was the legendary founder and editor of The Tundra Times. He once called his newspaper an "unselfish venture.” The Tundra Times was essential reading for anyone and everyone interested in Alaska issues. Rock maintained a nonpartisan editorial position but endorsed individual candidates based on Native issues. He also wrote about Native culture, and the newspaper carefully followed and reported on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act developments until the legislation became law in 1971.

Annie Dodge Waunkeka, Navajo. She became a nurse caring for patients during an influenza pandemic. She had the flu when she was young and gained enough antibodies to be immune. Later she traveled door-to-door on the Navajo Nation explaining tuberculosis. She was the first woman member of the Navajo Nation Council. And she was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Jackson Sundown, Nez Perce, born as Waaya-Tonah-Toesits-Kahn. He was a champion rodeo rider who became a folk hero because of his performance in the 1916 Pendleton Round-Up.

Elizabeth Peratrovich, Tlingit. She championed equal rights for Alaska Natives. She is credited for convincing lawmakers to pass the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, the first anti-discrimination law in the United States. Every year on Feb. 16, Alaska celebrates Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.

Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually. Frank was a tribal leader who fought for treaty rights, and that included defying the state of Washington on the river. He said: "I was not a policy guy. I was a getting-arrested guy.” But those arrests led to something. He became friends with those who shackled him. He was appointed to offices by the same governors who once had him arrested. He persuaded the entire establishment in the Pacific Northwest that he was, indeed, right and that folks were better off joining him in his cause.

And because of Billy Frank Jr., the salmon survive today and have returned to streams where they were once extinct. And the tribal communities of the Northwest are stronger in so many ways.

Wilma Mankiller, Cherokee. She was the first woman elected as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. In a speech at Emory University, she told a story about the United States sending a negotiation team to meet the Cherokees and draft a treaty. One of the initial questions was: "Where are your women?" Cherokee women often accompanied their leaders at important ceremonies and negotiations ⁠— and it was inconceivable that the representatives from the federal government would come alone. How can you negotiate anything with only half your people or half a way of thinking? Mankiller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Helen Peterson, Cheyenne and Lakota. She was the long-serving executive director of the National Congress of American Indians during much of the termination era. But that was her second career. Before that, she was an expert in Latin America, promoting human rights for farm workers and other Latin Americans. In 1949 she represented the United States at an international conference in Peru. She was a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, who encouraged her to move to Washington, D.C. “The Indians are their own best spokesmen, their own best diplomats; but they can exercise these roles effectively only in proportion to their opportunities to exchange information and to use their combined strength and concerted voice,” she wrote in an article calling for more participation by Native people in elections. Her son, Max Peterson, put Helen Peterson’s career in perspective when she died. “During those times, there were no women in power, really,” he said in the Denver Post. “Her accomplishments don’t sound like much now because a lot of women are doing the same things, but back then, doing those things were a big deal. She went to Washington as a lobbyist. That was an exclusively male area, and she managed to do a great job on behalf of Indian legislation and Indian rights.”

Forrest Gerard, Blackfeet. Gerard was one of the first American Indians to work on Capitol Hill and helped guide the Senate past the policy of termination into tribal self-determination. He worked for Sen. Henry Jackson and the Interior Committee where the “golden era” of Indian policy bills rolled off a legislative assembly line, the Indian Finance Act, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

This list, of course, is not the end. Only the beginning. Because in a country of this size and diversity it makes little sense to cling to statues that honor only a few, including historical figures unworthy of such acclaim. There remains a richer story that has yet to be told, chapter by chapter, stone by stone, and generation by generation.

Indian Country Today - small phone logo

Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports

Indian Country Today LLC is a nonprofit, public media enterprise. Reader support is critical. We do not charge for subscriptions and tribal media (or any media, for that matter) can use our content for free. Our goal is public service. Please join our cause and support independent journalism today. We have an audacious plan for 2020 and your donation will help us make it so. #MyICT

Comments (4)
No. 1-4
Nevada numu
Nevada numu

Be very careful considering Sarah Winnemucca. Do your vetting before confirming her. It was a colonial decision in all facets right down to choosing her statue. There are still many Tribal People in Nevada whose families were affected by her choice to ally herself with the Calvary. Many ancestors were wiped off the earth in massacre, or forced to walk away from their homelands and relocated to Washington and Oregon , some never to return to Nevada. Our Grandparents of my generation were survivors of the one they called the “Indian Benedict Arnold”.


I respectfully suggest that the very idea of statues and elevation of individuals above others (in the way the concept is framed here) is a Western tradition, indicative of objectification, authoritarianism, and anthropocentrism. Decolonization does not consist of substitution but rather dismantling and restoration.


I agree with rholschuh's statement, but I think it's stupid to try to cancel history, and mostly events and people we think had a bad impact on history. It was stupid to destroy Hitler's or Stalin's statues because to delete memory means to feed ignorance and ignorance ist the most destructive weapon that more or less legal powers have to keep people under their feet, under control. We have to save signs of history and to use them as a help for not to repeat whatever wrong our ancestors did.
Our kids have the right to know what REALLY happened in the past and to be aware of which consequences the different actions and decisions can produce.


Jackson Sundown and my Aunt Esther Motanic have been honored with statues on the Pendleton Bronze Trail. http://www.pendletonbronzetrail.com/esther-motanic/