Two Confederate monuments were lifted by crane and removed from the Cherokee Nation Capitol Square in Tahlequah Saturday as directed by Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., who observed from a few feet away.
Both monuments were placed on the capitol square nearly a century ago when the property was a county courthouse and owned by the state. The Cherokee Nation did not place the monuments.
“We’ve suffered for centuries with too many others telling our story for us as they see fit,” Chief Hoskin said. “It’s difficult to tell our story when we have non-Indian-driven monuments talking about the Confederacy, when they greet people as they come into our Cherokee Nation museum. It was time for a change.”
A fountain memorializing confederate soldiers and Confederate General Stand Watie was dedicated in 1913 by the Daughters of the Confederacy and was situated directly in the center of the capitol square.
A second granite monument weighing 13,000 pounds also honored General Watie, who was last to surrender during the Civil War. The monument was dedicated in 1921 by the same organization.
Chief Hoskin said the Cherokee Nation is not erasing history, as the Civil War story needs to be told as well as the stories of pivotal figures such as General Watie – but told through the Cherokee Nation lens, told appropriately, and told in a message that evokes unity.
“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. 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.”
The capitol square in downtown Tahlequah houses the Cherokee Nation’s most iconic and oldest building, the former Cherokee Nation Courthouse, which is now a Cherokee history museum.
The site has 13 different mismatched monuments, several with no ties to Cherokee history or the capitol square, since they were erected on the property before the Cherokee Nation reclaimed ownership in 1979.
“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,” Hoskin added.
It took about two hours for the monuments to be removed Saturday. They will now be stored by the Cherokee Nation. The tribe is working on more expansive plans for the capitol square, which include commissioning future art projects such as a monument dedicated to the Trail of Tears.
“A lot is going on in this country in terms of racial strife and the Cherokee Nation plays a role in healing, and this is one of the ways we can do that,” Chief Hoskin said.