TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Two Confederate monuments were removed from the Cherokee Nation Capitol Square Saturday morning, June 13, sparking a subsequent wave of controversy among groups insisting the act was an attempt to "erase history."
In the wake of civil unrest around the country over the death of George Floyd, protesters have renewed their fight to have monuments dedicated to Confederate leaders taken down. For years, activists in Tahlequah – seat of the Cherokee Nation – had voiced their displeasure with the two monuments that stood in front of the old Cherokee Nation Courthouse building.
Calls to remove the monuments had been reignited in recent weeks, as protesters began taking a knee at noon daily, just down the street in Norris Park, to shine a spotlight on Floyd's death as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.
A day after Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. told the Daily Press the monuments would be removed, they were lifted by a crane and taken from the property in about two hours. They've been placed in storage until their fate is decided.
“The monuments do not reflect the Cherokee Nation’s values of unity and hope,” said Hoskin, who observed the removal process. “Irrespective of recent national events regarding race and justice in this country, it has long been my goal to see those monuments removed and the capitol grounds updated.”
The tribe has plans to make changes on the capitol grounds, such as erecting monuments dedicated to the Trail of Tears. The two that were removed were placed at a time when the property was owned by the state.
“Today marks a new chapter in the history of the capitol square in which Cherokees, for the first time in over a century, can exercise control of the entirety of the square and let Cherokees, not non-Cherokees, tell our story more fully,” said Hoskin.
One of the monuments is a 1913 water fountain placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. On it is a depiction of the Confederate flag, and the words: “To Our Confederate Dead 1861-1865.” It was situated directly in the center of the capitol square. Also on the property is a 13,000-pound granite monument dedicated to Gen. Stand Watie, a Cherokee and the last Confederate general to surrender at the end of the Civil War. Like the other one, it had been erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1921.
“There are some painful references on these monuments, and I think we live in a time when we need to be mindful of the unity we have here on the courthouse Capitol Square,” said Hoskin. “If there is one place at the Cherokee Nation that should stand for unity, it should be here. After all, this is where we reconstituted our government and came back together as a people, and I think we need to do that today.”
There are actually 13 different monuments on the Square with no ties to Cherokee history, according to the tribe, which reclaimed ownership of the property in 1979.
“Cherokee Nation’s association with the Union and the Confederacy is a complicated one, and a story that needs to be taught and understood,” he said. “We will continue doing so. Letting others tell our story as they see fit, as was the case with the Confederate monuments, is a problem I’ve committed much time and energy to correct. Solving that problem is in our national interest. But for the first time in perhaps more than 120 years, we will take full control over the images, symbols and ideas depicted on our historic Capitol Square. So long as I am chief, those images, symbols and ideas will reflect unity.”
The Daily Press broke the story of the impending monument removal Friday afternoon, with the piece also appearing in the weekend's print edition. A link on Facebook drew hundreds of comments, many from people claiming that removing the monuments was an attempt to "erase history." Many comments were from out-of-town residents who claimed Cherokee ancestry and accused the tribal administration of "caving in" to "white people" or politically correct "liberals."