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State Capitol Memorials Face Scrutiny Due To Questionable Content

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- The State of Minnesota does not have monuments to the Confederacy, but that does not mean its statues and memorials are without controversy.

The only Civil War statues in Minnesota honor the Union soldiers who came from the young state. But State Capitol memorials -- like Christopher Columbus -- are generating similar anger, and getting closer scrutiny.

Native Americans object to the 1931 statue, inscribed in stone as the "Discoverer" of America.

What bothers critics?

"The fact that he's been attributed having 'discovered' America," said Paul Mandell, the executive secretary of the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board. "Not that he landed here."

Mandell is among the top state officials who regulate monuments on the 10-acre State Capitol mall.

In 1992, Columbus got a new plaque explaining how the explorer actually "initiated the merging of the cultures between the old and new worlds."

"I think it's important that we capture history somehow, but certainly there's a point where what you honor and what you recall are two different things," Madell said.

Columbus is one of several State Capitol memorials "re-interpreted" because of questionable content.

There's a new bronze plaque that was added to a Spanish American War Memorial, correcting the inscription and reflecting the suffering of Filipinos.

The original memorial honored Minnesota soldiers who "battled to free the oppressed peoples of the Philippine Islands, who suffered under the despotic rule of Spain."

The corrected language reads: "The United States entered that war to defeat Spain, not to free the Filipinos.  Most of the battles listed above were fought against Filipinos."

Two controversial paintings of Native Americans, considered offensive and historically inaccurate, were recently removed from the Governor's office. The paintings, which depict Father Hennepin at St, Anthony Falls and the signing of the Traveser Des Sioux Treaty, are not hidden from public view.

Instead, the Historical Society displays them prominently in a public gallery with a new interpretation.

"Of course we look at that with a different lens today, that it's really a tragic part of the story of the Dakota people," said Brian Pease, the Minnesota Historical Society State Capitol Site Director. "They sold their land, were put on reservations, had the U.S.-Dakota War. They were exiled from the state."

A bill at the Minnesota Legislature would order the state to chisel out the word "Discoverer" of America on the Christopher Columbus statue. And a recent bill also tried unsuccessfully to erase the word "discovered" America from a nearby statue of Leif Ericson.

Mandell says the state takes seriously the words -- and also the outdated words -- on the monuments, but says the memorials can be altered, not scapped.

"These need to be preserved, but some place where you can give context," he said.

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