Last Friday, during a special work session, the Charlottesville City Council approved a resolution to relocate the city’s existing statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea, a monument that has garnered critique for its depiction of Sacajawea, the Shoshone teen who served as the men’s translator and guide. While the bronze depictions of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark stand tall, Sacajawea crouches beneath them.
Proposed designs for the West Main Streetscape project calls for the statue to be moved 20 feet to accommodate a turn lane and pocket park. A City Council meeting in June drew supporters of the statue that has occupied the corner of West Main and Ridge streets for 100 years. It also drew many who said it is disrespectful to Sacajawea and her contributions to the expedition, something echoed by her descendants who served as panelists during Friday’s work session.
One such comment came from a Sacajawea descendant who has been to Charlottesville Before. Rose Ann Abrahamson recalled the installation of a commemorative plaque that highlighted the Indigenous woman’s significant contributions to the group’s journey. She and relative Emma George were involved in crafting the text of the plaque that was added for context in 2009, 90 years after the statue’s erection.
“We came here to place a plaque to alleviate the outwardly offensive depiction,” Abrahamson said. “I can say that when I saw it in person for the first time, I was very shocked. For, you see, my ancestor, Sacajawea, has many images throughout this country. My family and I were able to see them firsthand. This statue in Charlottesville was the worst we have ever seen.”
Abrahamson also noted the original placement of the statue in 1919.
“We all know it was during a time period of intolerance, misinformation and discrimination,” she said. “In addition, it was during a time period that governments elevated the achievements of dominant society’s heroes and their histories.”
While the next steps involve a cost estimate for removal, deciding where to relocate it and a process to design a new statue with consultation from Indigenous people — much of the timeline still is undetermined.
However, the day’s events began with a blessing ceremony and ended with hugs and gifts as a decision to move forward was reached.
Community members gather outside of the Carver Recreation Center on the morning of Nov. 15 ahead of a City Council special work session to determine relocation and replacement of Charlottesville’s Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea statue.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker greets Emma George, a descendant of Sacajawea ahead of the session and a ceremony.
Sacajawea descendants Emma George (center) and Willow Abrahamson (right) prepare for a smudging ceremony.
The burning of sage or other herbs are a method of cleansing and blessing in Native American culture.
Sacajawea descendant Dustina Abrahamson participates in the smudging ceremony with members of Virginia’s Monacan tribe.
Walker opens the work session, stating “We’ve been out of balance in this community for a long time. We’re usually having those conversations in terms of Black and white, but that imbalance started way before those discussions we’re talking about.”
Sacajawea descendant Rose Ann Abrahamson discusses her view of the statue as “the worst we have ever seen,” after having seen numerous nationwide depictions of her ancestor.
With the resolution passed, future work will be underway to relocate and replace the statue.
According to city spokesperson Brian Wheeler, the family of Sacajawea spells her name with a “j” rather than a “g.”