Official decision comes Thursday on future of Hiawatha statue

La Crosse Park Board of Commissioners have final say on Hiawatha Statue after removal request from Mayor Kabat
Hiawatha statue
The Hiawatha statue was removed from Riverside Park Aug. 11.

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat asked the La Crosse park board to remove the Hiawatha statue in Riverside Park. The Hiawatha statue has been a subject of debate for decades in La Crosse. Some people believe it magnifies the racial stereotypes of Native Americans.

For half a century it has stood 25 feet tall at the front doorstep of La Crosse’s Riverside Park. The Hiawatha statue reflects differently in the eyes of people depending on their perspective.

“It’s also been an issue of some contention over the last couple of years,” said Jay Odegaard, director of La Crosse Parks, Recreation and Forestry.

Kabat emailed the La Crosse Board of Park Commissioners Monday saying in part “It is time. Communities across our nation are facing the symbols from their pasts and making decisions about how to heal and move forward.”

The city has been working with the family of the statue’s artist Anthony Zimmerhakl to possibly find a new place for it.

“That’s something that’s been put off along with this type of an issue,” Odegaard said.

Thursday, Odegaard said the park board will make a decision.

“Obviously they have a big decision before them,” he said.

If the statue stays, Odegaard said it needs to be repaired, and if it’s removed there is a cost.

“We’re looking around the $13,000-$15,000 mark to have the statue removed,” Odegaard said.

The parks and recreation department has money set aside as a contingency for projects like Hiawatha.

“A lot of that really falls upon things that are not necessarily planned out,” Odegaard said.

The request comes a the same time the Washington Redskins moved to get rid of its name and logo for the first time in nearly 90 years.

“It’s a sign of the times and things are changing,” Odegaard said. “Really what we need to do is evolve and just try to make the best decisions we possibly can.”

Odegaard wants to hear from Ho-Chunk Nation officials, the La Crosse Arts Board, and others to work to replace it.

“In the event that the statue is removed. I don’t think the area will just remain grass,” Odegaard said.

The Board of Park Commissioners’ meeting is Thursday at 5:30 p.m.