McKinley plaque proposal again approved in concept, despite city stonewalling

The Parks & Rec Committee pores over the plaque proposal, with Armenian Student Association representative Araik Sinanya at center. KLH | Union

The Parks & Rec Committee pores over the plaque proposal, with Armenian Student Association representative Araik Sinanyan at center. KLH | Union

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA - The Parks and Rec Committee has, for the second time, approved the general concept of a plaque to be posted near the statue of President William McKinley. The plaque would frame the 25th president’s Plaza effigy in the context of both imperialism and genocide, local and international.

The plaque is an initiative of the Humboldt State Armenian Students Association (ASA), which is preparing for the April 24 centennial of the Armenian Genocide, during which up to 1.5 million Armenians were murdered.

First approved in concept at the March 11 meeting of the Parks and Rec Committee, the student advocates were advised to further fine-tune the draft wording for the plaque. That they did, developing three different versions, and asked that the matter be placed on this month’s Parks and Rec agenda for a finalized recommendation to the City Council, which will ultimately decide the matter.

According to student Araik Sinanyan, his efforts to work within the system have been ignored, possibly illegally.

In an opening statement to the committee, Sinanyan, an Arcata resident, said he had interacted with virtually every level of city government to get the ASA's issue on the agenda – and received only silence in return. He contacted committeemembers, City Councilmembers and multiple levels of city staff via email messages, phone calls, voicemails and personal conversations, asking that the matter be placed on this month’s agenda. He said he also sent written requests asking to be provided with the committee’s agenda.

None of this gained any response. Sinanyan found out indirectly and after the fact that the matter would not be on the agenda.

The failure to provide the agenda, he alleges, is a violation of Brown Act section 54954.1, which requires that agendas be provided on written request.

City Manager Karen Diemer, one of the people with whom Sinyanan spoke, is out of town this week and unavailable for comment.

Regardless, Sinanyan asked the committee to agendize the plaque matter on the spot and vote on it, a highly unusual but legal procedure which could be accomplished with a two-thirds vote of the committee. He said some of the students involved with the project are graduating. Also, this was the last meeting of the committee prior to the centennial.

“We’re being pushed back another month,” a frustrated but polite Sinanyan said.

Asked whether his group would be willing to accept a “no” vote, he replied, “Why would we not?”

The vote was taken, with all but Chair Nancy Starck voting in favor, and the matter was agendized on the spot. Starck supports the plaque, but didn’t feel that it met the threshold of being an “immediate business need of the city” to justify an unscheduled vote.

Sinanyan said he and his group have “worked tirelessly to receive input from the community regarding this project,” and that he had gained letters of support from various community members and groups.

Three new draft versions of the plaque wording (see below) were reviewed, sparking a vivid discussion.

This digital mockup displays the original, since revised verbiage for the proposed plaque at the base of the statue of William McKinley on the Arcata Plaza. Courtesy ASA

This digital mockup displays the original, since revised verbiage for the proposed plaque at the base of the statue of William McKinley on the Arcata Plaza. Courtesy ASA

Committeemembers were concerned about the mentions of several Indian tribes, wondering whether they had been contacted for consent and whether all relevant tribes were included.

Sinanyan said he had dutifully contacted the Northern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, and that some of the tribes no longer exist. Committeemember Zane Brotherton suggested that all the relevant indigenous groups be listed underneath the central verbiage.

Committeemember Steve Martin advocated for inclusiveness, but had concerns about associating McKinley with things for which he wasn’t responsible. “Maybe he was a jerk as a president, but he had been dead for 14 years before the Armenian Genocide, and wasn’t even a politician when the Indians were killed,” Martin said. “It’s curious or a little odd to implicate him in things he didn’t have anything to do with.”

Committeemember Deborah Coles agreed. “The McKinley paragraph seems to be a stretch,” she said.

“It’s just a matter of perspective,” Sinanyan said. “We’re not addressing McKinley. We’re addressing the statue.” He said the statue is a symbol of genocide and colonization.

“You seem like you’re implicating him,” Martin said.

Three times during somewhat contentious moments such as this, bright orange ping pong balls bounced into the room from the adjacent Senior Dining Facility, where vigorous rounds of table tennis were underway. They were thrown back.

“Opponents [of the McKinley statue] don’t like colonization and exploitation, and want it to go to McKinleyville,” said former City Councilmember Alex Stillman, who participated in the committee’s discussion.

She said the plaque would be useful in explaining why so many locals dislike the statue and wish for it to be removed. “It tells the rest of the story,” she said.

Martin said that it made more sense to get rid of the statue than put up a sign branding McKinley as a “bad guy.”

Brotherton said it was important to retain the statue as a reminder of that era and its destructive values.

“We don’t support removal,” Sinanyan said. “It was supported by the community at the time. We don’t wish to erase the statue, as that’s what happened.”

It was suggested that the repeated use of the term, “to this day” be removed, as the items listed could change and render the point moot.

Regardless of the committee’s wordsmithing, the wording of the plaque will also certainly evolve once the council gets ahold of it.facebook-like-button

With that, Brotherton offered a motion to approve the “general theme” and location of the McKinley Statue Plaque Project as it is being called, and send that recommendation on to the council. It was seconded by Committeemember Calder Johnson and approved, with Martin voting no.

Starck offered a follow-up motion that language be added to the plaque “encouraging readers to reflect on the human rights of people.” Brotherton seconded and the motion passed with Martin abstaining.

The proposed plaque will be 18 by 24 inches, with a landscape orientation. Its cost is estimated at under $1,300, not counting installation costs.

The plaque will be one of two topics on the April 16 Thursday Night Talk show, beginning at 7 p.m. on KHSU 90.5 FM.

The proposed plaque wording

FIRST VERSION

This plaque is dedicated to victims of genocide worldwide. It was presented to the city of Arcata by the Armenian Students’ Association of Humboldt State University on April 24th, 2015 the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

The sculptor of this statue, Haig Patigian (18761950), was born in the city of Van,  Armenia. Patigian’s family escaped the Ottoman Empire to find freedom in the United States. Shortly after their relocation, the Armenian Genocide took place between the years of 1915-1923. To this day, the Turkish government denies its extermination of 1.5 million Armenians and other Christian minorities.

The land on which this statue sits, ancestral Wiyot territory, has also seen genocide. From 1852 to 1873, people of the Wiyot, Nongatl, Bear River, Mattole, Wintun, and Chimariko tribes were systematically murdered and oppressed. These actions were financed by elite settlers and local businesses. To this day, our federal government has yet to issue a formal apology to Native groups regarding their treatment during this time.

The subject of this statue, President William McKinley (18431901), authorized the United States of America’s colonization and exploitation of American Samoa, Cuba, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. McKinley was later assassinated in an effort to stop the expansion of U.S. imperialism. To this day, the United States maintains American Samoa, Puerto Rico and Guam as colonial possessions.

In light of these historical atrocities, their current relevance and their connection to this statue, Arcata residents and visitors are encouraged to reflect on the legacy of these actions and the importance of defending the human rights of all people.

 

SECOND VERSION

This plaque is in memory of victims of genocide worldwide. It is a gift to the city of Arcata from the Armenian Students’ Association of Humboldt State University.

President William McKinley (1843-1901) led the colonization and exploitation of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam and the Philippines. Many consider these happenings to be a form of genocide. McKinley was later assassinated in a supposed effort to stop the violent expansion of U.S. imperialism. The United States of America still maintains Puerto Rico and Guam as colonial possessions.

The sculptor of this statue, Haig Patigian (18761950), was born in the city of Van, Armenia. Patigian’s family fled their home to find freedom in the United States. Between the years of 1915 and 1923, shortly after their relocation, the Armenian Genocide took place. The Turkish government denies its extermination of 1.5 million Armenians.

The ancestral Wiyot territory on which this statue sits has also experienced genocide. From 1852 to 1873, indigenous peoples of the Wiyot, Nongatl, Bear River, Mattole, Wintun, and Chimariko tribes were systematically murdered and oppressed by settlers. The US federal government has yet to issue a formal apology to native groups regarding their treatment during this time.

These occurrences are a few of many systematic killings throughout recorded history.  Although these genocides are different, the message they spread is the same. Humanity is one and we must accept others for their differences. Although the lives of those lost in the violent attempts to exterminate differences can never be replaced, they did not die in vain. Let us learn from them so that genocide itself can be eliminated, not the differences it seeks to exterminate.

 

THIRD VERSION

This plaque is dedicated to victims of genocide and Colonization worldwide. It was presented to the city of Arcata by the Armenian Students’ Association of Humboldt State University on April 24th, 2015, the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

William McKinley (1843-1901), the 25th President of the United States, authorized the colonization and exploitation of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and the Philippines. Currently, the United States of America maintains Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, US Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam as colonial possessions.

The sculptor of this statue, Haig Patigian (1876-1950), was born in the city of Van, Armenia. Patigian’s family escaped the Ottoman Empire to find freedom in the United States. Shortly after their relocation, the Armenian Genocide took place between the years of 1915-1923. To this day, the Turkish government denies its extermination of 1.5 million Armenians.

Locally, a systematic genocide was executed in the Northwestern counties of California. From as early as the circa 1850 to 1873, the local indigenous people of the Wiyot, Nongatl,Whilkut, Bear River, Mattole, Chilula, Chimariko, Wailaki, and other tribal nations were systematically murdered and oppressed by a local militia that was financed by the settler elites and businesses. To this day, the federal government has yet to issue a formal apology to native communities regarding the land and lives lost by the brutal colonization carried out by the United States of America.

In light of these historical atrocities, their current relevance and their connection to this statue, Arcata residents and visitors are encouraged to reflect on the legacy of these actions and the importance of defending the human rights of all people.

 

 

Authors

Related posts

One Comment;

  1. Pingback: No McKinley genocide plaque any time soon | Mad River Union

Comments are closed.

Top
X