The statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York. (photo by Valentina Di Liscia for Hyperallergic)

A controversial statue of Theodore Roosevelt that has stood outside New York’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) for more than eight decades will finally find a new home: the forthcoming Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora, North Dakota.

But not everyone is pleased with the announcement of the sculpture’s final destination. The activist organization Decolonize This Place (DTP), which has long advocated for its removal, called the relocation to the new presidential library “the latest example of garbage transfer.”

“A year and a half after the mayor conceded that this monument to white supremacy was no longer welcome, the city finally found a place to dump it,” the group said in a statement. “Long before it is carted away, the statue has already provoked anger and resistance in North Dakota, where it will sit on stolen land in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.”

Last summer, amid historic Black Lives Matter protests, the museum and the city announced their decision to remove the monument, a colossal equestrian bronze of the former US president flanked by two unnamed African and Native American figures. In a statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the sculpture “explicitly depicts Black and Indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior.”

Over a year later, the contested statue remains on the museum’s steps, its removal and relocation delayed by public hearings required for monuments that sit on city land. In June, the NYC Public Design Commission voted unanimously in favor of a proposal to move the statue to a then-unconfirmed institution dedicated to Roosevelt’s life and memory. This month, the city entered into a long-term loan agreement with the Roosevelt Presidential Library, set to open in 2026.

A spokesperson for AMNH told Hyperallergic that the removal process “will take several months and will begin this fall.”

DTP protesters covering the Roosevelt statue with a parachute in October of 2016. (Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

The library has a budget of at least $100 million and will be built with private donations near Roosevelt’s former cattle ranch in the badlands of western North Dakota and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Large parts of the park exist on land seized from the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) people with the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851. Executive orders signed in 1870 and 1880 resulted in further loss of territory.

According to Native News Online, tribal leaders were not consulted with regards to the Roosevelt statue’s relocation.

“Via my office, nor any official other, the MHA Nation was not consulted,” Chairman of the MHA Nation Mark Fox told Hyperallergic. “The statue has no significance to us in its origin or existence, other than what it is becoming now. Our MHA Nation would be discouraged and potentially offended if put in a place of prominence on or near our ancestral lands.”

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment, but a spokesperson told Native News Online that they consulted with the North Dakota Indian Affairs office (a commission appointed by the North Dakota governor).

Because the Presidential Library system wasn’t established until 1939, Roosevelt, who served two terms from 1901 to 1909, does not have a dedicated archive and museum. In a letter on the new institution’s website, CEO Edward F. O’Keefe says it is an opportunity to “build a [Theodore Roosevelt] presidential library in the 2020s, not in the 1920s.”

“We can embrace his flaws, understand [Roosevelt] as a human being, and discover what we can learn from him, not just about him,” O’Keefe said.

Those “flaws” include Roosevelt’s fervent belief in the superiority of the white race and his support of aggressive allotment policies that led to the transfer of approximately 86 million acres of tribal land to the national forest system.

“There is still time to melt down the monument and recycle the bronze for a much better purpose,” DTP said in its statement. “Spare the people of North Dakota.”

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is Co-Editor of News at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...

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