Plattsburgh residents debate future of controversial monument

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) Controversy is stirring in Plattsburgh over a monument that has stood overlooking Lake Champlain for more than 100 years. Our Kelly O'Brien takes a closer look at the statue and the debate.

The monument honors Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer believed to be the first European to reach Lake Champlain. Below him on the sculpture is a Native American kneeling. Some have called for changes to the monument while others say it should be used to educate people.

"We are Native American, we're full-blooded Natives," Evita Stacey said.

Stacey is a member of the Mohawk tribe and has called Plattsburgh home her whole life. She says for decades, the Samuel de Champlain monument showing Champlain standing 12 feet tall over a kneeling Native American has been a topic discussed in her family.

"Native Americans, Mohawks, in particular, were the ones on the front lines. They were also here first. So, Samuel de Champlain has nothing to do with anything," Stacey said.

She says she would like to see Champlain come down from the monument.

"I would like it for him to come down and the Native American to stay," Stacey said.

In 2018, the Samuel de Champlain monument working group was formed, hoping to bring to light the inaccuracies of the statue.

"The errors and the misinterpretations in the statue-- we wanted to use those as an educational opportunity," said Penny Clute, a member of the working group.

The group has spent two years researching, talking to Mohawk elders and experts on Champlain. Clute says the monument was made to honor Champlain but also to honor and recognize his Native allies

"The Native person here was a guide and an ally, not a subject of Champlain, so he's looking out at the lake. They are both looking out at the lake," she said.

In order to bring attention to what is incorrect on the statue, the group has made an educational panel for passersby to learn the right information on the natives depicted.

"We thought people should know that this statue and those who created it, in addition to them admiring Champlain, they did admire the Native people and the birch bark canoe, in particular, the creations of the Native people," Clute said.

Stacey says she thinks it's important for people to be educated on Plattsburgh history and the role the Mohawks played, and that conversations should continue between different-minded people.

"No more one person's opinion is more than the other," she said.

COVID-19 slowed the process of getting the educational panel up. The group says they are working with the city to find out a new date.

I spoke with Plattsburgh Police who say they have ramped up patrols in the area of the monument as the controversy about the monument continues.