In the SAME Corner: To Take Down or Not to Take Down?

Editor’s Note: “In the SAME Corner” is a column written by various members of Sage Advocates of Multicultural Education (S.A.M.E.) throughout the year.

In America, we remember our historical figures by instituting statues and buildings in honor of their achievements. However, in light of recent events, specifically the fall of Confederate monuments, there has been an ongoing debate whether to take down some of these historical statues such as those of Christopher Columbus or specifically, William McKinley. These historical figures are controversial both in their treatment of Native Americans and their impacts on indigenous communities today. 

This debate has been especially prevalent in Arcata, Calif. located in Humboldt County.  A bronze statue of William McKinley, the 25th U.S president, is located in the central square of the town. President McKinley has been accused of backing the Curtis Act, an amendment to the Dawes Act that proposed to change the allotment process of the Native Americans and resulted in the dissolvement of their governmental tribes. 

Proponents of taking down the statue such as activist, Chris Peters, state that McKinley’s statue is offensive to the native population of Arcata, California. Some of Arcata’s native population believe that McKinley was a supporter of “settler colonialism” that “savaged, raped, and killed.” Other tribal activists, such as the chairman of the Wiyot tribe, Ted Hernandez, believe that the statue of McKinley serves as a reminder of Arcata’s actions towards the Native Americans. 

One Arcata resident: “This Christmas, give the gift of not giving racism and murder. Remove the statue.”

However, others argue that McKinley’s achievements, from fighting for the Union in the Civil War to appointing African Americans to federal positions which was unexpected in that time, should be memorialized. They say that remembering America’s history is important and although McKinley’s actions were harmful to the Native Americans, he was still one of the U.S. presidents. 

Former Arcata Mayor Bob Ornelas: “Tearing down McKinley would take away from the city’s culture.”          

The City Council meeting voted 4 to 1 in favor of removing the McKinley statue, and now it is no longer standing in the central square. While opinions differ on the removal of the statue, there is one question to consider: what does this mean for the future of statues with stories (or situations) similar to that of McKinley?