Cville Votes to Remove Lewis and Clark Statue

Nov 16, 2019

As Charlottesville prepares to redevelop a section of West Main Street, attention has turned to a statue of Lewis and Clark boldly facing west as a young native American woman huddles behind them.  City council is planning to remove the hundred-year-old sculpture and perhaps replace it with something that reflects the important role of Sacagawea. 

Emma George, a member of the Shoshone tribe and a descendent of Sacagawea, holds a smudging ceremony before a meeting of Charlottesville's city council.
Credit RadioIQ

The city brought four descendents of Sacagawea to Charlottesville from Idaho, and they began the day with a traditional smudging ceremony – burning plants in a shell bowl to rid the area of negative energy and invite harmony.

The talks that followed were friendly, but frank and – at times – emotional. Emma George recalled her reaction to the sight of a cowering native woman.

"This morning I went out there to look at that statue," she said, choking back tears. "It did not make me feel good at all.  It was humiliating."

Her sister Rose Anne Abrahamson said the sculpture was a product of its time.

"In 1919, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were Virginia’s heroes, but Sacagawea was a woman and a native American," she says.

A statue in Charlottesville shows Lewis and Clark's first look at the Pacific Ocean. Their native American guide, Sacagawea, is shown cowering behind them.
Credit RadioIQ

And her daughter, Willow Abrahamson, said Sacagawea’s courage and cultural knowledges may have saved the lives of her fellow travelers.

"That would have been viewed as a war party – a group of men." she explains. "If it wasn’t for Sacagawea showing Lewis and Clark how to communicate with these other tribes in a diplomatic way, I do not think they would have made it."

City Council voted to remove the sculpture – giving it, perhaps. to the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center nearby, and to replace it with a tribute to Sacagawea and to Virginia’s native people.