Arcata City Council meets with community members to discuss the McKinley statue at the Arcata Community Center on March 21. Photo by Tyrone McDonald.

Community doubles down on McKinley statue


Community straightens out Arcata City Council on removing McKinley statue.

The Arcata City Council held a meeting at the Arcata Community Center on March 21 concerning the McKinley statue on the Arcata Plaza. Over 200 community members attended.

The Arcata City Council voted 4-1 with one abstention on Feb. 21 to remove the McKinley statue from the plaza.

The March 21 council meeting was an attempt to invalidate the recent vote and years of community protest against the statue in the town square.

Council member Susan Ornelas put the ballot item on the March 21 council meeting agenda as part of a “no project alternative.”

“I felt I could trust the citizens of Arcata to see this issue deeper than people have been projecting they would see it,” Ornelas said. “I thought I could trust people [to] see why [the statue] should be there.”

Council member Paul Pitino spoke on the subject of a public ballot.

“In reality, it is not going to be an option to have the statue remain in the middle of the plaza,” Pitino said. “I see we have this thing handled already. We don’t need a vote.”

Mayor of Arcata Sofia Pereira also commented.

“Given that we have already made a vote to move the statue, I believe that putting this to a vote doesn’t give us the information we need in a public process,” Pereira said.

When Pereira opened up the public comment, 121 people were signed up to give a three-minute comment on the McKinley statue removal. Public comment lasted for over three hours.

The first speaker during the public comment, Claudia Johnson of Arcata, said that the only people who should determine if the statue should be removed are the voters.

“That statue was a gift to the citizens of Arcata and the city council is responsible for caring for it,” Johnson said. “Right now, [the city council is] not taking care of it.”

Arcata resident Rob Hepburn has been the gardener at Veterans Memorial Park in Arcata for 15 years.

“I’m a Vietnam combat veteran and that is why this is really important to me,” Hepburn said. “I know what happened in the Philippines. That started under the watch of McKinley. It started with an ideology called ‘manifest destiny,’ which in essence says that white men are determined by a God-given right to take the lands of non-white peoples and civilize them into imitation white men.”

Hepburn ties the Philippine-American War to Vietnam War.

“The results in the Philippines were 250,000 civilian deaths. Massacres in the Philippines were precursors to the My Lai Massacre and other massacres in Vietnam,” Hepburn said. “That is why I feel so strongly that this statue should not be in a place of honor in the center of Arcata. The legacy of imperialism and racism needs to stop here. It needs to end with us.”

Arcata resident Joanne McGarry stands for peace on the Arcata Plaza.

“McKinley invaded the Philippines and Hawaii,” McGarry said. “He does not stand for peace. I want a peaceful plaza.”

McKinleyville resident Maureen Kane also made a statement during the public comment.

“If we are to have peace, we must openly and knowingly acknowledge all of our wrongdoings so we can ask to be forgiven,” Kane said. “Atrocities occurred in our town square.”

Allison Lundahl, a Humboldt State student pursuing a masters in social work, spoke at the meeting.

“I encourage [the city council] to include historical trauma [and] the impact of the symptoms of colonialism in your CEQA report,” Lundahl said.

CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is a California environmental statute requiring state and local governances to comply with environmental guidelines.

Tia Oros Peters of the Seventh Generation Fund in Arcata spoke next.

“I request that the city council open every council meeting recognizing that we are on Wiyot territory as a right of indigenous peoples, recognizing the sovereignty and determination of the Wiyot people,” Peters said.

Peters also requested the council to stand firm in their decision.

“We should not be having this meeting,” Peters said. “You already voted to remove the statue.”

At the end of public comment, the council agreed to honor their earlier decision to remove the McKinley statue from the plaza.

“At this point, I’m saying I would just continue with what we’re doing,” Ornelas said. “I’m sorry we took all of this time.”


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