Mayor Weighs in on Duston Statue Controversy, Suggests Adding Native American Side of Story

Haverhill Police and Department of Public Works assess vandalism damage to the Hannah Duston statue in GAR Park in late August, 2020. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini this week waded into the controversy over Haverhill’s downtown statue of Hannah Duston, saying he prefers to keep the monument and add the Native American side of the story.

The mayor offered the remarks during 97.9 WHAV’s simulcast of Frank Novak’s “Point of Reference” program Wednesday night. He said the City Council is still looking into what to do about the statue but that he personally believes the current monument presents an incomplete look at history.

“I think the Hannah Duston statue only says half the story. I want something that tells the other half of the story—the story of the Native Americans who used to live here. This was their land. I want the story of what happened to those Native Americans,” he said.

At the beginning of July, resident Judy Matthews called on the City Council to remove the statue of the Puritan. Matthews read from a statement by the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness.

“MCNAA believes that the statue is harmful to the community due to its perpetuation of racial stereotypes and its presence as a symbol that continues to illustrate the structural racism that has been a foundation of the United States since its founding,” she said.

City councilors took no steps, however, until a second plea came at the end of July from Benjamin Roy.

“While there has been much debate over how much we should judge someone who has lived so long ago, there are some things that are not up for debate. Hannah Duston murdered several indigenous men, women and children in their sleep. She then harvested their scalps by cutting them off with a hatchet and traded them in to the Massachusetts state government for a bounty,” he said.

Since those presentations, resident Dee Jacobs O’Neil launched an online petition, advocating for keeping the statue where it is. The petition, which has garnered more than 1,600 signatures, calls Hannah Duston “an important piece of history and resilience.” It proposes the descriptive plaque be removed and replaced with “historical data that is culturally sensitive.” It also suggests a QR Code be added to allow people to learn more on the smartphones.

The statue, erected in 1879, commemorates her escape from the Abenaki tribe who had taken her prisoner and is engraved with the phrase “pursued by savages.”

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