A Year After New Controversy Arose Over Hannah Dustin Statue, Native American Task Force Meets Tonight

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.)

In the aftermath of a community debate over a statue honoring colonial heroine Hannah Duston, Haverhill’s Native American Commemorative Task Force gets to work tonight providing equal recognition of the city’s indigenous people.

The Task Force, headed by Daniel Speers, was organized after vandalism at the Duston statue a year ago added to historical complaints about racial stereotypes. Tensions especially rose nationwide following the murder of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. The statue, erected in 1879, commemorates Duston’s escape from the Abenaki tribe who had taken her prisoner and is engraved with the phrase “pursued by savages.”

Mayor James J. Fiorentini, who proposed the compromise of keeping the Duston monument, but adding the Native American side of the story, plans to provide “insight, clarification of our mission and his suggestions on how to proceed.” Speaking over WHAV last summer, the mayor offered a rationale for a second memorial.

“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.

The meeting takes place tonight at 6:30, both virtually and in-person at City Hall, 4 Summer St., Haverhill, room 301.

Members are tasked with identifying possible memorial locations; obtaining grants and donations; contacting “appropriate tribal groups with connections, antecedents or descendants of this region;” conducting historical research; and identify procedures to “solicit proposals, concepts, and/or actual plans/models for a proposed memorial.”

Community Development Director Andrew Herlihy will also brief members on possible grants, application requirements and timelines.

The mayor named the Task Force in May and described Speers as “a descendant of indigenous peoples, a well-known poet in the area, member of Haverhill’s Historic Commission and expert on indigenous people’s history.” Others named are Ron Peacetree, also a descendant of indigenous peoples and an expert on indigenous people’s history; John Lynch, an expert in Haverhill history who regularly posts about Haverhill’s history on Facebook; Thomas Wylie, a member of the Haverhill Conservation Commission and Haverhill Historic Commission; and Erin Padilla, programs and operations director at Creative Haverhill/Cogswell ArtSpace.

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