A 19th century statue that some say is degrading to Native Americans will be removed from its touristy public spot near San Francisco’s City Hall, joining a growing list of historic markers being ousted under pressure from the public.
The San Francisco Arts Commission voted unanimously Monday to remove the “Early Days” sculpture, which depicts a Native American at the feet of a Spanish cowboy and Catholic missionary. It is part of the Pioneer Monument cluster that depicts the founding of California.
People in the audience who had lobbied for the statue’s removal cheered at the vote.
“It definitely feels like a long time coming,” said Barbara Mumby, an arts commission employee who is descended from Native tribes in California and New York. “I think some people may not understand how big of a symbol it is to be able to take this down.”
The issue has been percolating for decades but the San Francisco Arts Commission started the removal process in October after demonstrators clashed over the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August.
San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission agreed in February to the statue’s removal with the condition that a plaque be placed to explain why it was removed.
Critics of removal say the public shouldn’t erase what happened, even if the history is ugly. The Ohlone inhabited the San Francisco area before they were driven out by Spanish settlers.
Tom DeCaigny, who oversees the arts commission as the city’s cultural affairs director, said the commission wasn’t trying to forget or revise history.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I think we heard loud and clear from the community and from diverse stakeholders that this was not a monument that reflected San Francisco’s values.”
He also said it didn’t merit its spot so close to City Hall. Other statues in the cluster will not be affected by the vote.
Randy Burns, a Northern Paiute who has fought against the statue for decades, couldn’t make it to the meeting. But he had something to say.
“Monuments like that, it’s time to go,” he said. “Things are changing we want our kids to grow up in a diverse society.”
In January, San Francisco voted to replace the Columbus Day holiday with Indigenous Peoples Day to honor Native American people decimated by the arrival of European immigrants.
In San Jose, California, the City Council voted recently to remove a hand-carved statue of Christopher Columbus from its City Hall.