By Frankie Kerner and Taylor Perse
On Saturday, June 13, the Pioneer Mother and Pioneer Father statues at the University of Oregon were torn down following a rally at Deady Hall.
It is unknown who pulled them down and if they were affiliated with a particular group.
The preceding rally was organized by the BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) Liberation Collective as a “teach-in,” educating participants on Oregon’s racist past.
These local protests and events were sparked by national outrage of the Minneapolis Police killing of George Floyd. Black Lives Matter protests around the U.S. have resulted in protesters taking down statues of Confederate soldiers.
There was another rally at the same time at Alton Baker Park, organized by the group Black Unity, which advocates more for police reform than abolition, unlike the Liberation Collective.
There were four speakers at the UO who spoke about Oregon’s troubled history with Native American people, Latinx people and gentrification and racism in Eugene and Portland that led to the displacement of Black residents.
Multiple people called for the dismantling, defunding and disarming of the police. Nothing was mentioned about taking down the statues during the event.
After the rally officially ended, the crowd started to disperse. That’s when a group of activists tore down the university’s Pioneer Mother and Pioneer Father statues.
The group first pulled down the Pioneer Father, dragging it across 13th Avenue on campus and up the steps to Johnson Hall, the location of UO President Michael Schill’s office. The UO has been called upon in the past to remove the statues.
The activists next toppled the Pioneer Mother, who sits directly behind Johnson Hall, while also tearing off the plaques on the pedestal along with the letters spelling “Pioneer” off “Pioneer Mother.”
Bystanders said they saw the group using mallets and crowbars, and that there were cheers when the statue fell over. After the statues were taken down, the activists left the scene.
The Pioneer statue was previously vandalized when it celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2019 and has been criticized by Native American groups on campus due to the statue’s association with pioneers and the “spirit of the West.” The statue has also been criticized because the Pioneer is carrying a rifle and a whip, adding to the feel the statue depicts domination of Oregon’s Indigenous peoples.
Ryan Reed, co-director of the Native American Student Union (NASU) says his immediate reaction was excitement to hear the statues have come down. He says that NASU had written a proposal ASUO several days earlier about taking down the statues and renaming Deady Hall and other campus landmarks.
“We got a letter sent out and a couple of days later, it happened,” Reed says. “It wasn’t a direct result, but it’s time for change.” He adds that he thinks that if the process had gone through formally, the Pioneer Father statue would have come down.
Last year, NASU asked and protested in favor of its removal. The group’s former co-director Bret Gilbert told the Daily Emerald at the time, “A lot of our students feel oppressed by the statue. I know when I walk under it I feel very inferior.”
“Those statues are on Kalapuya land,” Reed says. “And the fact that we have a dorm to honor the first people of the land, having the pioneers statues are contradicting.”
On Saturday night, the UO gave a statement saying that though it supports peaceful protesting and “vigorous expression of ideas,” it does not condone acts of violence.
“Decisions about the future of the Pioneer statues and other monuments should be made by the campus community through an inclusive and deliberative process, not a unilateral act of destruction,” the statement said.
The university also said that the statues will go into storage while the UO Senate decides whether or not to put them back up. Last week Schill recommended to the Board of Trustees that Deady Hall be renamed, a notion that he had spoken against when it was brought up in 2017.
Reed says that it will be interesting if the administration chooses to put the statues back up and that that to re-erect them would be making a big statement.