St. Louis University has removed a statue of a Roman Catholic priest and two American Indians that was described in the campus newspaper as a depiction of “colonialism, imperialism, racism and … Christian and white supremacy.”
The statue, “Where the Rivers Meet,” shows Pierre-Jean De Smet, a cross held high above his head, putting a hand on a Native American who stands below him. A second Native is shown kneeling.
“This message to American Indians is simple: ‘You do not belong here if you do not submit to our culture and our religion,'” wrote Ryan McKinley in The University News. McKinley stressed that SLU, a private Catholic University, was “likely unintentionally” committing the racial slight.
The statue will now be displayed in the University’s art museum. The usual debate over “political correctness” has ensued, particularly in the comments section at the conservative-leaning Washington Times. Some pro-statue commenters feel the move ignores the historical fact that, within the dark context of colonialism, De Smet was unquestionably one of the good guys.
The question is whether the statue, without that context, comes across as a tribute to one of the good guys or an overall endorsement of imposing European culture on Indigenous people.
For more on De Smet, see: “Native History: Father De Smet Talks Peace With Sitting Bull”