Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Sharing A Perspective on Champlain Monument in Plattsburgh

A personal account by Mahlon Smoke

 

(L to R) Lauren Gonyea, Tekoma Cole, Tonya Deese, Mahlon Smoke, and Julia Devine after the panel discussion. Photo by Lauren Gonyea. 

On Tuesday April 10th, I was invited to participate in a discussion about a monument of Champlain that looks over Lake Champlain. But while the statue of Samuel de Champlain stands in triumph, down below him kneels the statue of a generic Native person, based on no historic figure. At the time this monument was erected, this figure was suppose to be a testament to the Native people who had helped Champlain on his journey. However the topic of this discussion fell on that very native person. 

The panel began with James Lindgren, Plattsburgh State history professor, going over the historical aspects of not only the Champlain monument but other historical monuments that were built with Native people, such as Pocahontas in Virginia, and a few others. The purpose of this presentation was to give context to the monument and the panel as a whole. Having taught about historical sites before, he felt that this panel would need some context before we spoke. 

He made comments on the fact that the statue is not of any Iroquois tribes but "It's just a generic Native American," as he said, commenting on the fact that the figure is wearing a headdress mostly associated with many Plains Native tribes. Lindgren sited the "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" as the reason for this and why many stereotypical images of Native people often look similar to nomadic Plains tribes. It was there he ended the presentation and opened the panel for us.  

I was joined on the panel with current senior and fellow Akwesasne resident, Tekoma Cole and Tonya Deese PSUC Visitation and Events Coordinator. We spoke to a room of Plattsburgh students and residents of the city where we gave our different perspective and concerns about the Statue. 

For Deese, her story involved finding a connection upon discovering the statue. She said the following "I'm taking a stroll in Plattsburgh, I run across this monument, I see [that] Native American structure, and I'm instantly connected." But during her research and speaking with other tribes in the meaning behind the statue she started to understand the implications of the placements of the statue and leaving her uncertain about her initial impression. 

Cole spoke on her experience at Plattsburgh in relation to the statue. Cole felt that "seeing the Native American below the colonizer is a little bit of a reminder of how Native Americans are still seen today." something that I have personal experience with. Especially when explaining my own conflict with the statue. 

During my stay in Plattsburgh, I had seen the statue many times, which I could appreciate what the statue meant in a historical sense. I see the 'Indian' and feel a pit in my stomach, because unfortunately in the end, this is how myself, my family, and many residents of Akwesasne will be seen outside of our territory. But I could only speak for myself, while Deese spoke out about feeling a connection to it and Cole spoke on her own personal conflicts. I spoke of possible solutions to help make it better.

I brought up the idea to either relocate the statue of the Native man, I also was in favor of revising the plaque to acknowledge the reason for the statue and understanding the unfortunate implications that it presents. Especially to possible students that may go to Plattsburgh from not only Akwesasne but other Native nations. 

This being a discussion, the floor was opened to the residents of Plattsburgh and students of Plattsburgh State to express their own opinions. Many community members shared their own ideas in possibly remodeling, revising, relocating, or separating the statue all together. All of which seemed to express interest in continuing this subject to figure out a way to fix the statue.

I would personally like to thank Julia Devine, Community Engagement director, Lauren Gonyea, Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion staff assistant, and CCE Intern, Arwa Abuwala for inviting me to this panel. I was glad to have attended to share my views as well as share these views with other residents of Plattsburgh and with the exchange of emails and promise of continuing this discussion and finding a permanent solution.

 

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