California

This San Francisco statue honored European colonizers. Now, it’s been taken down.

Do Confederate memorials honor soldiers killed in war, or memorialize racism?

A Confederate monument in Cornelius, N.C., was vandalized in August 2017 one day after violence between white supremacists and counter-protesters left a woman dead and dozens of people injured in Charlottesville, Va.
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A Confederate monument in Cornelius, N.C., was vandalized in August 2017 one day after violence between white supremacists and counter-protesters left a woman dead and dozens of people injured in Charlottesville, Va.

Under cover of darkness, the workers moved quickly to take the controversial statue down. But this was no Confederate monument in the Deep South — it was a Bay Area sculpture honoring European colonizers at the expense, critics said, of California’s indigenous people.

The 125-year-old “Early Days” statue, located not far from San Francisco City Hall, depicted a vaquero (Spanish-speaking cowboy) and a missionary standing above a fallen Native American.

Many Native Americans spoke out against the statue; Morning Star Galli, with the International Indian Treaty Council, said Native American children were humiliated “by seeing their people treated in such a stereotypical way,” according to KTVU.

The statue was removed around 5 a.m. Friday, according to KPIX.

“Those who gathered to watch, mostly American Indians, softly sang traditional songs and burned bundles of sage,” according to SFGate, which reported the removal was complete by 5:30 a.m.

Though it came down quickly, the process to get the statue removed was anything but.

While the city’s Arts Commission and Historic Preservation Commission approved the removal in fall 2017, according to SFGate, the removal order was reversed by the San Francisco Board of Appeals in April, according to KPIX.

Appeals board member Rick Swig said the statue was “horrible,” but removing it would amount to censorship, KPIX reported.

But the board reversed its position Wednesday, to cheers of people like Janeen Antoine, a person of Lakota ancestry who was quoted by SFGate.

“I think we’re witnessing a moment in history where, commendably, San Francisco officials are doing the right thing to help rectify the mistreatment of indigenous people,” Antoine said, according to SFGate. “It was very emotional for me. There are a lot of sins moving away with that statue.”

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler
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