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Keep Chief Massasoit

Published: Monday, Dec. 1 2008 12:08 a.m. MST

Should he stay or should he go? That was the catch phrase in a Junior Big Boy advertising campaign years ago. Now the line is being heard again, only this time it's about the statue of Chief Massasoit — of Thanksgiving fame — that graces the grounds of the Utah state Capitol.

The controversy swirls around the fact Massasoit was a Massachusetts Indian. And some members of Utah's tribes would like to see a more regional figure used at the Capitol instead.

We understand the sentiment for cheering on the home team. We've championed the notion of "local first" more than once. But in this case there are, as the jurists say, extenuating circumstances.

First, Massasoit has stood there so long now he has become part of the state simply by longevity. He is a part of us now, too. And the fact he's from the East Coast shouldn't be a concern. After all, Lady Liberty in the New York Harbor was a native of France. And quite frankly, a more fitting target for protest might be the Indian chief caricatures — complete with big noses and beady eyes — that adorn dozens of downtown lamp posts.

In the end, Forrest Cuch — a lifelong leader from the Ute tribe — sounds the voice of reason. He feels we should leave the good chief Massasoit at the Capitol but use this issue to draw more attention to the struggles and accomplishments of Utah's native peoples.

Besides, choosing a figure to replace Massasoit would likely lead to another dust-up. (We'd probably lobby for Chief Sagwich, who — in full robes — rode a white horse back and forth in front of his Shoshone people to shield them from the bullets of the U.S. Army during the Bear River Massacre.)

In the end, Tom Lovell of the Navajo tribe does have a point when he says that having Massasoit up there is a little like having a statue of the Massachusetts governor at the Capitol. But he may want to be careful he doesn't speak too soon. If Mitt Romney does well in his political quest, a tribute to that Massachusetts governor may end up in the state's hallowed halls someday.

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