A statue of Samuel de Champlain overlooks Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh. A Native American and a guideboat are below him on the pedestal. There are a number of factual errors on the statue — most obvious, a Plains Indian headdress on the native guide. Rather than tear down the monument due to the inaccuracies, Plattsburgh officials have instead installed a plaque explaining the errors.
“We acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Mohawk people – the Keepers of the Eastern Door. We honor the original caretakers of this and surrounding lands and offer respect to the Haudenosaunee who are still here. We are settlers on their land and we strive to be accountable by remembering the history and cultivating respect in our relationships with our Indigenous neighbors and the land.” Retired district attorney and judge Penny Clute began the proceedings by reading a “land acknowledgement” commonly recited in Australia, New Zealand and Canada to recognize First Nations. Clute is a member of the Samuel de Champlain Statue Working Group formed in April 2018 to seek ways to fix the historical errors on the monument. Clute says the group felt there was a better solution than removing the statute. “There is an in between solution like we’re doing here. At Plymouth Rock there is a large plaque that was put there by a local Native tribe that addresses Thanksgiving and what Thanksgiving means to them which is the beginning of death. So to have both points of view there at Plymouth Rock is something that we carried with us when we were thinking about what to do here.”
Reverend Gregory Huth noted that for thousands of years people had lived on these lands and the inscription “discoverer” below Champlain is a European precept. “We learned that Champlain was a discoverer only from the European point of view. Native allies including the Huron, Algonquin and Montagnais who had lived in this valley for more than 11,000 years had guided Champlain from Quebec to the shores of the lake that now bears his name. None of these people wore the Plain Indians headdress that is depicted on the Native American at the monument. These were some of the errors that we were able correct by offering the educational panel.”
Don Papson is a co-founder of the Underground Railroad Museum and the Red Hummingbird Foundation, which promotes social sustainability. He would like to see another new monument honoring the native peoples of the region. “This monument shows Champlain with a native ally and Algonquin guide. The Mohawk people and Champlain were not allies, however. In fact he continued farther south on this lake to confront and kill Mohawk chiefs to assist his indigenous allies. Our 250 word panel is only a beginning. It cannot fully explain the complex history which includes European colonization and misleading and demeaning portrayals of native people. We invite others to join us in learning more about who really discovered Lake Champlain.”
The working group raised the funds to create the bi-lingual English and French interpretive panel.