City leaders meet about Hiawatha statue in La Crosse

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) -- For nearly 60 years, the 25 foot high Hiawatha sculpture designed and built by Anthony Zimmerhakl has been standing in La Crosse's Riverside Park.

The statue was created to represent Native American history, but some claim the statue is offensive of Native Americans.

Wednesday morning, representatives from the city of La Crosse, the Ho-chunk Nation legislator and family and friends of the artist met to discuss the future of the statue.

"I think the main thing we're looking for is educational on this as far as not only the history of Hiawatha, the statue itself and the artist, but the history of the Ho Chunk nation and the Native Americans from the area. And I think we're trying to come up with a solution that'll educate people on both sides," said La Crosse City Council Member Gary Padesky.

The statue has been under debate for many years.

Back in 2000, calls were made for the statue to come down before it was ultimately voted to be left standing by the city.

As the debate continues in the public, the Ho-chunk Nation stood by the city and says it supports whatever they decide.

"We wanted to support the city of La Crosse, whatever their decision may be and to let them know that we are here to continue on any positive partnership that can continue and we just want to maintain that. Because we feel that this is a progressive area, we want to continue and foster those partnerships," said District Two Representative for Ho-Chunk National Legislator Kristin WhiteEagle.

Ultimately, the final say of the Hiawatha statue rests with the city.

"It is a city issue, it's in a city park and it's ultimately up to us to decide just the way forward. But I d o think it is critical to have those perspectives and to hear from and learn from people on all sides of the issue," said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.

Those in the meeting say they want to continue the dialogue.

Kabat says ideally he hopes to have the issue resolved sometime in 2018.

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