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UVA group suggests statue removal, indigenous center

A statue of Thomas Jefferson stands in front of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia on graduation weekend at the school Saturday May 16, 2020, in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A statue of Thomas Jefferson stands in front of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia on graduation weekend at the school Saturday May 16, 2020, in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – The University of Virginia’s racial equity task force is recommending the school remove a statue of a Revolutionary War general that some have criticized for its depiction of Native Americans, and replace it with an indigenous studies center.

The nearly 100-year-old granite statue of Gen. George Rogers Clark depicts the military officer mounted on a stallion confronting three Native Americans while backed by armed men. Clark, the older brother of explorer William Clark, led militias against Native American tribes to take land after the war, according to historians.

The task force recommended to university President James E. Ryan that the school remove the statue and work to build a Center for Native American and Indigenous Studies in its place that would offer opportunities for academic studies, recruitment and support of Native American students, including the establishment of a tribal liaison position, The Daily Progress reported.

The Daily Progress quoted current student and Cherokee Nation member Zac Russell as saying the statue was “blatantly racist” for its depiction of the killing of Native Americans, and Anthony Lopez, a Crow Creek Sioux tribal member and chairman of the Native American Indigenous Studies Group’s statue committee pointed out that the school does not offer any indigenous studies programs.

Virginia’s Pamunkey Indian Tribe gave its support for the effort and offered to be involved in planning, Pamunkey Chief Robert Gray wrote in a letter last week to a state historic preservation officer.

“We perceive the removal of this statue and turning it into an indigenous studies complex as a definite positive way forward to entice Native American students to attend the University of Virginia by turning a negative depiction of Native Americans into a positive one,” Gray wrote.

A final decision on removing or replacing the statue would be made by the university’s board of visitors. Spokesman Wes Hester said Ryan would review the plans and discuss the report with the board in September.