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A bronze Massachusetts Indian chief makes his return to the Utah Capitol sometime this month or next.
But at least one Utah Navajo is wondering why Utah's native tribes don't have a sculptural presence at the historic statehouse as well.
"If they're going to honor Utah Indian tribes, then they need to use a Utah Indian and put [the statue] in a special place," said Tom Lovell, a Navajo who lives in Holden, Utah, and Rexburg, Idaho.
Chief Massasoit, who celebrated Thanksgiving in 1621 with Massachusetts' pilgrims, has been missing from his prominent place in front of the Capitol's main steps since an extensive renovation began in 2004.
Lovell protested the statue's pending return last week after discovering Massasoit hailed not from Utah but from the Eastern state that bears the name of his tribe. Lovell softened his stance after learning more of the statue's history. It was a gift from world-renowned sculptor Cyrus Dallin, a Springville-born artist who also crafted the Angel Moroni atop the Salt Lake City LDS temple.
"It's a great piece of artwork," Lovell said. "They can put it wherever they want."
Still, Forrest Cuch, director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, is glad Lovell started a dialogue.
"A lot of people do not know the history of the sculptor," Cuch said. "They're not familiar with the history of this state and American Indians, in general."
Lovell would like to see a statue of a famous Utah Indian -- perhaps a Ute leader -- added to the east side of the Capitol, where Chief Massasoit will have a new home and granite pedestal when he returns. Lovell estimates he will need about $50,000 to commission a sculpture, and he already has received interest from potential donors.
David Hart, executive director of the Capitol Preservation Board, welcomes a proposal. Having private funds lined up would be key, he said, although Lovell could petition the Capitol Preservation Board, which includes the governor, the Senate president and House speaker, for state financial support. First, Lovell would need to present his idea to the Capitol's Art Placement Subcommittee.
Cuch suggested one noteworthy Utah Indian who could be memorialized in bronze: Chief Black Hawk. He was a Ute who rallied not only his tribe but also Paiutes and Navajos during the Black Hawk War of 1865 to 1868, when violence erupted between Mormon settlers and American Indians over food shortages.
In the meantime, Cuch is working with Capitol curator Judith McConkie to expand a display of Utah Indian artifacts and art at the statehouse.
McConkie said Massasoit's statue speaks to Utah's artistic heritage and to American Indian history.
"Cyrus Dallin was one of the first Utah artists to have real fame and recognition outside of Utah," she said. "Massasoit -- because of his kindness to the pilgrims, the first immigrants to this country -- really stands as a symbol for Native Americans and first peoples nationwide."