Vision 2020 Celebrates Sakakawea

During Women’s History Month, Vision 2020 is highlighting women who are represented in the U.S. Capitol Statuary Hall with a bust or full statue. Of the 100 statues sponsored by the states, only 11 women are depicted – including the recent addition of Rosa Parks. Vision 2020 Delegates will share their reflections on the women from their respective states represented in the U.S. Capitol.

Linda Wurtz statueNorth Dakota Delegate Linda Wurtz comments on the significance of Sakakawea:

Even before North Dakota’s first statue designated for Statuary Hall was established, that of John Burke, there had been discussion of whether the first statue would be an Indian. After the Burke statue was in place in 1963, discussion revolved around whether the second statue should be a political figure, a power player, a woman, or Native American. There was not the political will to put forward the name of a woman or a Native American. Thirty-six years later, just four states had yet to select their second statue when a resolution was put forward in the 1999 North Dakota legislature to designate Sakakawea as the second honoree. Resolution sponsor Senator Tim Mathern testified that, “Of the 96 statues now in Statuary Hall, 91 are men, and only one is of a Native American.” He had put the resolution forward because Sakakawea “…represents the best of who we have been… .”

There is an identical statue of Sakakawea on the North Dakota capitol grounds. Dedication for that statue took place at sunset on October 13, 1910. Perhaps the most inspiring words regarding Sakakawea were spoken at that dedication by Frank L. McVey, president, University of North Dakota.

“But it was not to her as Indian that this memorial has been erected. It is rather to her as a type of woman universal, who regardless of race, or condition, or of fettering circumstances, rose to her opportunity and accomplished a noble service… . This statue which we unveil today is one of perhaps four that have been erected to the memory of women in a land where woman stands higher in the affections and the opinion of men than anywhere else in the world.”

The U.S. Capitol Statuary Hall Biography of Sakakawea

In 1800, at about the age of 12, a Shoshone girl was captured by the Hidatsa tribe in an area that is now North Dakota. Her original name is not known, but she was given a new name by her captors. The State of North Dakota has adopted Sakakawea as the most accurate English representation of this name, which means “Bird Woman,” although other spellings (e.g., Sacagawea and Sacajawea) are also used.

By 1804 Sakakawea had become the wife of a French-Canadian, Pierre Charbonneau, who was hired in that year as an interpreter for the northwest expedition headed by Meriweather Lewis and William Clark. She traveled with the party and assisted with translation and made contacts with Shoshone and Hidatsa people, who considered the presence of a woman a sign that the expedition was peaceful. She served as a guide and gathered edible plants along the route. Her son Jean Baptiste was born on February 11, 1805, in winter quarters at Fort Mandan in North Dakota, and she carried him with her when travel resumed. After the return of the expedition in 1806, Sakakawea and her husband and son lived in the Mandan and Hidatsa villages. She is believed to have died of a fever in 1812 at Fort Manuel near Kenel, South Dakota.

In selecting Sakakawea as the subject of this statue, the state legislature chose to honor her as a “traveler and guide, a translator, a diplomat, and a wife and mother” and to recognize that “her indomitable spirit was a decided factor in the success of Lewis and Clark’s…expedition.” Their choice appears to agree with the sentiment expressed by William Clark in a letter to Sakakawea’s husband almost two centuries ago: “your woman who accompanied you that long dangerous and fatiguing rout to the Pacific Ocean and back deserved a greater reward for her attention and services on that rout than we had in our power to give her.” The statue was in place in the Capitol for the beginning of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The statue is a replica of one dedicated in 1910 on the grounds of the state capitol in Bismarck at the entrance to the North Dakota Heritage Center. The statue is by Leonard Crunelle (1872–1944), who was born in France and emigrated to United States in 1882. He worked in mines in Illinois until 1893, when he became a student and apprentice of sculptor Lorado Taft in Chicago. His model for Sakakawea was her granddaughter, Mink Woman, from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs of North Dakota raised funds for the replica, as they did for the original statue. The replica was cast by Arizona Bronze Atelier, whose owner is a Bismarck native. It weighs 875 pounds and stands on a granite pedestal weighing over two tons. The replica was displayed in North Dakota before it was transported to Washington, D.C.

The Rosa Parks statue increases the number of historic women’s statues and busts to a paltry 11. There are more than 90 men represented. During Women’s History Month, Vision 2020 wants to know who is YOUR CHOICE for the next statue.Vote in the Vision 2020 poll for your choice for the next woman to be honored. Vision 2020 will submit the results to Congress.

About equalityinsight

Vision 2020 is a national coalition of organizations and individuals united in their commitment to achieve women’s economic and social equality. Join Vision 2020 today!
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