Campus News

Blank says there will not be a plaque honoring natives on Lincoln statue

Despite calls from ASM and student groups like Wunk Sheek, Chancellor Blank said the university has no plans to put a plaque on Bascom's Lincoln statue recognizing the president's role in the deaths of natives.

Image By: Morgan Winston

Chancellor Rebecca Blank said she has no plans to answer the Associated Students of Madison’s call to put a plaque on Bascom’s statue of Abraham Lincoln recognizing the president’s role in the deaths of natives.

Blank told The Daily Cardinal last week that the university has “not been very open” to the idea of the plaque.

According to Blank, Lincoln played a “restraining role” in the deaths of 38 Dakota men in 1862. She said Lincoln refused to agree to a territorial governor’s proposal to sentence 350 natives to death.

“[Lincoln] insists on personally weeding through all of this, and he ends up saying ‘I’m only going to take the sentences of those who we have evidence, witness evidence, that they were involved in either killing or raping, and everyone else we are going to dismiss charges on,’” Blank said.

Blank said acknowledging history is “incredibly important,” but the Lincoln statue represents the importance of public education.

“Abe is actually here because he was the person who really created public universities in the states throughout this country in a very real way,” Blank said. “I do not see a reason to prominently label [the killings of natives] on the Lincoln statue.”

ASM Chair Katrina Morrison — whose organization passed legislation last October to recognize Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day — supports putting a plaque on the statue. Morrison said that while it is important to “acknowledge Lincoln’s role in creating land-grant institutions,” the university should still recognize “his brutality towards indigenous peoples.”

“We wanted a plaque near Lincoln because we wanted the university to recognize his part in the Dakota 38 massacre,” Morrison said. “I think that [not putting a plaque on the statue] is a mistake, and I think that the history is irrefutable. It is clear that he played a huge role in the massacre and was killing innocent people for no reason.”

Mariah Skenandore, a co-president of the indigenous student organization Wunk Sheek, disagrees with Blank’s interpretation of Lincoln’s history. Skenandore said UW-Madison’s refusal to put a plaque on the statue represents their continued oppression of marginalized students.

“They don’t acknowledge the impact that it is having on their students, and I’m impacted by [seeing Lincoln on Bascom Hill] every day,” Skenandore said. “I think the plaque is the least the university can do.”

Skenandore said that although the plaque seems unlikely, Wunk Sheek will continue to push for it.

“If we don’t keep advocating for ourselves, no one is going to advocate for us,” she said.

Wunk Sheek leaders said they will be putting signs on Bascom Monday morning promoting Indigenous Peoples Day. The group will also perform a traditional cleansing practice at the top Bascom Hill later in the day.

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