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Petition To Take Down Statues On Capitol Grounds Gains Momentum

Great Plains Action Society is a collective of Indigenous organizers. The petition it started has collected more than 600 signatures in support of taking down some of the statues on the Iowa State Capitol grounds.
Great Plains Action Society
Great Plains Action Society is a collective of Indigenous organizers based in Iowa and eastern Nebraska. The petition it started has collected more than 600 signatures in support of taking down some of the statues on the Iowa State Capitol grounds.

When people walk up to the Iowa State Capitol, they may see a few statues scattered across the lawn. One is a bust of Christopher Columbus. Another depicts a Native American person on his knee next to a presumably white man.

Those figures are problematic for some Indigenous peoples in Iowa. That’s why Great Plains Action Society started a petition to take down those statues and change some practices around the state.

"We demand that all white supremacist, misogynistic and, homo/transphobic historical monuments, names, and holidays be removed from all Iowa state grounds and facilities. By removing these monuments, we are not erasing history—we are correcting it," the online petition said.

Sikowis, also known as Christine Nobiss, is the founder and is Plains Cree/Saulteaux of the George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada.

“I’ve personally felt unwelcome and attacked at the state Capitol building every time I’ve had to go and speak on issues important to Indigenous peoples," Sikowis said. "And this state, and it is presenting a whitewashed version of what really happened here."

The petition has collected more than 600 signatures. Great Plains Action Society’s goal is to reach 1000 to present to the governor and state legislators in an effort to remove the statues.

They're probably get the argument that says, like, 'You can't erase history, this is our history. You can't erase it.' But this is not our history," Sikowis said. "They say that history is written by the winners. But you know, history is in this country, it has been written by the colonizers and the invaders."

She urged people to learn about Indigenous history by asking questions, reaching out to community members and taking the time to listen.

Sikowis said Democratic Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad has approached the group to help draft new legislation that would ban not only the statues, but other practices like celebrating Columbus Day in schools and having Indigenous mascots.

The petition lists out the detailed demands for removal:

  • The bust of Columbus on Iowa State Capitol grounds
  • Columbus Day, which is still celebrated and taught in the public school system
  • Pioneer and friendly Indian statue on Iowa State Capitol grounds
  • The Marion Indian mascot and name
  • The name “Squaw Creek” for the tributary to South Skunk River in Ames
  • 40 foot mural of manifest destiny in the Iowa State Capitol building
  • Manifest Destiny murals in the Polk County Courthouse
  • Confederate monuments in Bloomfield

"This does not just affect Indigenous people, it affects BIPOC people, it affects, you know, everybody really, because it's not really telling the real history of this country,” Sikowis said.

Christopher Columbus did not discover the U.S., rather encountered it. But he is a somewhat glorified figure in U.S. history.

Many places across the country have replaced celebrating Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day, in honor of the populations who were already living in the Western Hemisphere before Europeans "discovered it."

Demonstrators with Des Moines Black Lives Matter have also made demands to remove the statues. Sikowis said as an Indigenous person, working with others on social justice issues is key.

"I don't think it's different at all, I think it's one of the same. I do think it's important that Indigenous Peoples be at the table, because the majority of the statues that are left standing are depicting the ratio of our people and genocide," she explained.

She knows it will require effort to make these changes, but the hard work is worth it. She said she wants to help educate people.

"Maybe we can change the minds. Maybe we can help people understand that hate speech is not okay. Or propaganda is not okay. No matter, you know, what it depicts, and that indigenous people don't feel welcome on their own lands in their in spaces that, you know, we should feel welcome in, you know, we should feel welcome at the Iowa State Capitol building or in public spaces," Sikowis said.

She added that she believes this subject has been complicated due to the recent billsigned by Gov. Kim Reynolds that puts limits on government agency diversity trainings and school lessons related to racism and sexism.

Editor's note: Ames and Story County officials recommended renaming Squaw Creek to Ioway Creek in 2020. In February, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names approved the change.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines