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UO Students & Faculty Protest 100-Year-Old Pioneer Statue

Melorie Begay/KLCC News

On the 100 year anniversary of the University of Oregon’s Pioneer statue, dozens of students and faculty called for its removal. As KLCC’s Melorie Begay reports, they see it as memorializing colonial violence.

As protestors gather around the 13 foot tall statue, that’s stood at the center of campus since 1919, Bret Gilbert collects signatures for a petition. It demands the U of O take down the Pioneer.

“Honestly I avoid walking by the statue as much as I can," said Gilbert, a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. He said the design of the figure, a white bearded man holding a whip and a rifle, glorifies violence.

“The pioneer as a symbol is really the championing of the mysticism around Native American history and the myths that people believe that this land was uninhabited and uncivilized and those things we know aren’t true now," Gilbert said.

Last year the university created a committee to review artwork around campus, including the Pioneer statue. A full report is expected this fall.

UPDATE: UO Interim Spokesperson Molly Blancett sent the following statement Thursday (5/23) in response to the protest:

The Pioneer statue was unveiled 100 years ago to represent Oregon’s first European settlers. A century later, a more inclusive view of history recognizes that The Pioneer symbolizes just one part of the story. The UO fully appreciates that to many Oregonians, including those of Native American ancestry, it stands for something very different, the framing of history from only one culture’s perspective. We take those views very seriously. Last winter, the UO established a presidential working group – led by Dean of Libraries Adriene Lim and Professor Dean Livelybrooks – to audit and review campus monuments, plaques and public art installations and recommend whether any changes need to be made to those features to recognize the diverse histories of our community. The Pioneer statue is part of that review, and the working group hopes to deliver a report, including recommendations, next fall. We are happy to share any research and information from outside organizations with that working group.

Melorie Begay is a multimedia journalist for KLCC News. She was the Inaugural KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She has a bachelors in Multimedia Journalism from the University of New Mexico. She previously interned at KUNM public radio in Albuquerque, NM and served as a fellow for the online news publication New Mexico In Depth.