Written by Alexandrea Flanders
Early last year, I was invited to support my best friend, Rogue LaMere, deliver a fiery speech at the Climate Crisis Parade in Des Moines, Iowa. This would be the first time in my life where I traveled to Des Moines, Iowa. The Climate Crisis Parade was a success. However, the event that followed afterwards is what got my heart pumping. It was an event to denounce white supremacy at the Iowa State Capitol building. Erected in front of the Iowa State Capitol stands a settler, his son, and a “friendly Indian” who appear to be looking off into the distance. The statue is titled, “Pioneers of the Territory.” The Iowa Legislature explains, as if proudly, further into the making of the statue and what it represents:
“The design for this grouping called for: ‘The Pioneer of the former territory, a group consisting of father and son guided by a friendly Indian in search of a home.’ The pioneer depicted was to be hardy, capable of overcoming the hardships of territorial days to make Iowa his home...Originally designed to be a lion's head, this bronze buffalo head was determined more appropriate to Iowa's prairie environment.”
Until that day, I’d never personally came across any monuments as such. One that tried to hide the truth in the way that it did. I have reason to believe that the moment that was depicted was in fact false. Tourists, locals, and the general public who pass this statue may think nothing of it. They are perceiving this statue as just another part of the American and Iowan history; nothing more, nothing less. However, to me and many other Indigenous people, this statue shows that Indigenous people were nothing but slaves and servants to them. There is no mistake in deliberately having a settler and his son stand tall while a First Nation man is crouching beneath them as the settler points to stolen land to claim as his own.
This statue allows White Supremacists to feed into their fallacies. It allows for the continuation of violent systems constructed without people of color in mind such as the prison system, DHS, and capitalism. It incites violence and hate towards Indigenous nations by 1.) silencing their voices, 2.) re-traumatizing their bloodline memory, and 3.) continuing to let whitewashed history be accepted (not Indigenous history) to this very day.
Signs of Racism and MMIWG2S (Missing Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Two-Spirit) and In Search of Stolen Land were held that day. While we stood before the capitol building, Christine Nobiss (Plains-Cree Saulteaux), Michelle Free-LaMere (Ho-Chunk), and Donnielle Wanatee (Meswaki) stood in front of this statue and delivered an urgent call-to-action to take all problematic statues down at the Iowa State Capitol as well as nationally. It was a powerful day. Quite often we are told that when moments like that happen, everyone that is supposed to be there - will be there. Each of us either feel that call or we don’t. I left that day feeling like I needed to do more. I was no longer going to sit by and witness our history being taken away like everything else was.
After the inexcusable death of George Floyd, white supremacy came to the forefront as well as police brutality and many other crises that people of color endured. We watched as monuments and symbolism that perpetuate falsehoods and violence were being taken down. Some of these statues and monuments were beheaded, tossed into lakes, and others were simply removed. I wished that I could stand there to witness these events. In a sense, these events were long overdue and needed to happen. It took me back to the day at the Iowa State Capitol. I look forward to the day that we’re truly able to take down white supremacy statues, monuments, and symbolism.