Charlottesville City Council debates Sacajawea statue and future holidays

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) — At a meeting Monday evening, Charlottesville City Council discussed the removal of the Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea statue on Main Street, as well as possibly ending the city's celebration of Thomas Jefferson's birthday as a city holiday.

City Council was originally going to vote on whether or not a commission should be formed to decide the fate of the Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea statue on Main Street. They ultimately voted against putting resources toward forming the commission. Instead, they voted on creating a work session made up of Native Americans to get their input.

The $75,000 that was originally going to be allocated for the commission will now go towards travel, hotel, food, and meeting expenses for the Native Americans that will come to the city and voice their opinions.

Mayor Nikuyah Walker said the decision needs to be made on not just removing the statue but making a statue that better represents Sacajawea like how other cities have done. Walker pulled up a picture of a Native American woman statue in South Dakota titled "Dignity: of Earth and Sky."

"If we're at a place where we're talking about moving something,” said Walker, “and there's going to be a cost to move it, and we're talking about something that really should stand in the center of our city, should it continue to be that, or should it be something like this."

Grace Hays, a Native American from Charlottesville, spoke in front of council on why Native Americans’ opinions need to be considered in this decision. Hays said that the statue pained her when she first saw it.

"When you get close to her face, you kind of see that she looks concerned at the very least,” said Hays. “Maybe afraid. She's crouching, she's hiding, she's there with her baby. I have my feelings about the statue. I also feel like her family, her descendants' feelings, are really the most important in terms of how she's portrayed."

The work session is scheduled to come together sometime in the fall.

Also discussed at the meeting was a heated discussion between council members on whether or not to remove Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, April 13, as a city holiday, and add Freedom and Liberation Day as a holiday on March 3.

There were concerns about whether Freedom and Liberation Day will be a Friday-Monday holiday or a holiday to celebrate on the day.

Wes Bellamy and Nikuyah Walker were adamant about adding Liberation Day and removing Thomas Jefferson’s day, noting his slave ownership.

"Thomas Jefferson already has 365 holidays and I do think that is the case here in Charlottesville," said Bellamy. "You literally can't go anywhere within our city without hearing or seeing a reminder of Thomas Jefferson."

Kathy Galvin did not want to remove celebrating Thomas Jefferson, noting his other contributions to the country and area.

"Doing away with Thomas Jefferson's birthday doesn't do away with the history," said Galvin. "That birthday is still here. What he has done in the past is there."

Council decided to vote on the holidays at their next meeting, July 1.

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