The San Francisco Arts Commission has unanimously voted to remove a Civic Center statue depicting a Spanish vaquero and a missionary standing over a prone Native American figure.
As KTVU tells it, dozens of people turned out to an open Arts Commission meeting where they discussed the statue and made cases for its removal. Most of the comments made to the commission were in favor of taking it down, as it represented a time in history that was rife with racism and genocide.
Artist Hailey Clarke said, "How would you feel if someone came into your home, killed your family and then put up a statue commemorating the people who killed and enslaved your family?" Dee Dee Manzanares Ybarra, a member of the Rumsen Ohlone tribe, wrote a statement on a Facebook group dedicated to the statue's removal. It reads, in part: "It implies that natives were subhuman and that their survival was due to their colonization by outsiders when in reality the natives had survived for thousands of years. Changes need to be made by educating people of the true history."
One of the commission members, Marcus Selby, also urged the rest of the commission to vote in favor of the statue's removal, which garnered cheers of support from the assembled crowd.
Back in August, television host and stand-up comic W. Kamau Bell tweeted about an online petition to remove the statue, also urging for its removal while drawing a parallel to the current wave of Confederate statue removals going on across the United States.
Not all racist statues are Condfederate. 👇🏿😒 https://t.co/zCO8FCVGE9— W. Kamau Bell (@wkamaubell) August 30, 2017
The statue, titled "Early Days," is seen by many as a symbol of white supremacy, and it's one of four bronze statues by the sculptor Frank Happersberger that were commissioned for the plaza depicting California history, and installed in 1894 in front of SF's Old City Hall. Looking at the way it presents the Native American figure — lying back, in need of help, made to be perceived as "lower" in placement — versus how it presents the vaquero and the missionary — standing, looking up, "helping" — it's not hard to make that connection. The use of religion and, oftentimes, violence to colonize the Americas is well-documented, and this statue can be seen as a means of glorifying these colonial acts.
It's important to note that this vote comes less than a week away from "Columbus Day," a day that many Native Americans feel glorifies another historical figure who engaged in imperialist, colonialist activities to annex land that wasn't theirs and subjugate an entire people. Other cities, the first of which being Berkeley, have already renamed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day, celebrating the Native Americans/Indigenous Americans who lived here long before the Americas were "discovered" by Columbus and Spain.
Mayor Ed Lee has already come out in support of the statue's removal, too. KQED reported on a statement from Mayor Lee where he said, "Certainly on the streets of San Francisco, there ought to be symbols that don’t oppress people or remind them of oppression. That symbol continues to be a symbol that bothers [Native Americans], and it bothers all of us if it bothers them." Joining Mayor Lee was Supervisor Jane Kim, who said, "Preserving a monument for the sake of history holds less weight than respecting all of our community members."
Only two things stand in the way of the statue's removal now, the first of which, according to SF Weekly, is the Historic Preservation Committee, which will be taking their own vote on whether to remove it or not. Second, there's the cost; estimates for the statue's removal stand between $160,000 and $200,000.