ITHACA, N.Y. -- After much thoughtful debate around the language of the resolution, the Common Council voted on Oct. 7 to officially remove the white settlers monument in DeWitt Park.
A resolution was proposed that outlined the reasons for removing the monument, describing the inaccuracy of the monument and stating that “regardless of who were actually the first non-Indigenous settlers of this area, this area was already settled by the Haudenosaunee, who were ejected from this land through use of explicit violence, forced to sign unfair treaties, and who never received fair compensation for their loss, and whereas the marker reflects the [Daughter of the American Revolution]’s focus on white Americans and the promotion of an intentionally limited version of American history, a history that often marginalized the contributions of women, Black and Indigenous people and other people of color.”
A revised resolution was also proposed by alderperson George McGonigal, in which the language is softened. It read: “Whereas the land here was once home to the Cayuga Indians, one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and one of the Cayuga’s refugee [guests], the Tutelos and Suponis. The Cayugas fought and then fled before General Sullivan’s invading American army in September of 1779. By 1789, the land was largely unoccupied and American settlers had begun to arrive, albeit before legal land claims could be made.”
Alderperson Cynthia Brock took issue with the language changes, stating that she didn’t think that properly addressed the issue.
“It kind of bypasses the reason we’ve gotten to this situation to begin with,” she said. “This isn’t merely about who the fist white settlers were, it is about the pain of association that comes with the monument […] To bring in the ‘whereas’ that talks about how the land was largely unoccupied when settlers began to arrive is additionally painful and I think insensitive to the history of the people who were here and continue to be here and have roots here.”
Discussion continued, with Mayor Svante Myrick adding that he was supportive of any resolution that removed the marker, though he preferred the original because it better captured his intent.
Alderperson Deb Mohlenhoff urged her fellow council members to make sure they got it right.
“We shouldn’t do something because it’s fast and easy,” she said. “We should do something because we have monuments that people walk by and find hurtful. That should be at the forefront.”
After more discussion, where everyone remained in agreement that the monument needed to go, alderperson Donna Fleming suggested just voting to take it down and figuring out the language at the next meeting.
“The first white settlers monument is not historically accurate as native people had lived here for centuries beforehand, let’s remove it and donate it to the History Center,” she moved. “I want the prize for shortest resolution in the history of the Common Council.”
Myrick noted that the nearly hour-long discussion was permanently on the record and would provide people with more than enough context for why the monument was removed.
The short and sweet resolution passed 8-2. Alderpeople Mohlenhoff and Brock voted against the resolution solely for the purpose of the language, or lack thereof, used.
“I think it whitewashes the intent of this momentous action,” Brock said.