"Honoring and Healing Through Art and Truth" is Theme
"It's not about Indians, it's about people! All the life forces must come into alignment! The Prophesies tell us that we are now in the time of a great healing. It says the four Colors of the human family are once again given an opportunity to bring each Color's gifts together and create a mighty nation," ~Gichi-Ma'iingan (Larry Stillday) Obaashiing. Notes to Biidaanakwad
Organizers of the Shaynowishkung Statue Project had been watching the weather forecast for days, and it didn't look good. Showers and even thunderstorms were predicted for the dedication of the statue honoring Shaynowishkung, (He Who Rattles) aka Chief Bemidji, 1834-1904.
Yet, an estimated 300 people bet against the weather prediction (breezy and overcast) and slowly congregated at Library Park in Bemidji, Minnesota at high noon on June 6, 2015. The purpose? To acknowledge the role of indigenous peoples in Bemidji. People walked to the site from parking places downtown due to construction in the nearby Visitor Center's parking lot.
Four or five sets of bleachers had been set up near the main drag, Bemidji Avenue just south of 5th street. The bleachers faced a new bronze statue on the crest of a hill that receded gently to Lake Bemidji. But the bleachers soon overflowed as more and more people arrived. New arrivals formed a half circle in front and to both sides of the statue, some standing some sitting on the ground.
Beyond the statue, a hill gradually sloped to the shores of the lake whose namesake was for the man being honored, the lake known by the Indigenous peoples of the area as Bemijigamaag. Shaynowishkung who lived on the South shore near the river inlet in the late 1800s, was nicknamed Chief Bemidji by the newcomers. The city of Bemidji got its name from the Ojibwe word Bemijigamaag which means "lake with cross waters" referring to the Mississippi River crossing through the lake.
The 9-foot, 3-inch, bronze-casted sculpture is the third statue of Chief Bemidji built and displayed on the shores of Lake Bemidji.
Honoring and Healing Through Art and Truth
As the ceremony began, people continuing to arrive, attendees were treated to flute music provided by Windy Downwind of Red Lake and Jon Romer of Bemidji.
A Flag Song was requested of the Eyabay Drum Group of Red Lake, as the Leech Lake Honor Guard posted the colors to the south of the viewing stand, the southern breeze just perfect for the flutter of flags. Eyabay also sang an honor song. The crowd was told the song was to honor all of those who have gone on before us, those who are here now, and those who will be coming in the future.
Larry Aitken, Spiritual leader from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe did a short prayer and pipe ceremony in Ojibwemowin, and then spoke to the crowd in English.
"Mino-Giizhigad! It is a good day today as peoples of many nations come together to honor a good man. Shaynowishkung, as a person, was a very peace-minded leader, and he lived side-by-side with white settlers in Bemidji," said Aiken. "He was a bridge-builder, and today we follow his lead and fulfill his legacy. We need more of that now as we go forward."
Welcome: Carolyn Jacobs
Carolyn Jacobs of rural Bemidji and co-chair of the statue committee shared the podium with co-chair Kathryn "Jodie" Beaulieu of Red Lake.
"This is the culmination of over six years of work," said Jacobs. "This monument is dedicated to the honoring and healing of our diverse and collective communities. In a time when conflict was more common than peace, Chief Bemidji brought people together."
"Shaynowishkung came to this area, paddling up the Gichi-Ziibi (Mississippi River, literally Big River) in 1882 with his children, being unable to bear the recent death of his wife. He settled on the South shore of Lake Bemidji along the Mississippi's inlet," said Jacobs. "Here he befriended the first settlers of European descent in the late 1800s. We hope to emulate his good example and that this event will lead to healing and understanding between cultures. A recognition that both Indians and non-Indians have much in common yet much to learn about each other."
Welcome: Kathryn "Jody" Beaulieu
Kathryn "Jody" Beaulieu said creation of a new statue took the collaboration of both Native and non-Native members coming together through "forthright conversations" for a common goal.
"The committee was impressed with Gareth Curtiss during the interview process when he displayed a 3-foot high clay model of what he intended to create," said Beaulieu. "The model brought tears to the eyes of the family of Shaynowishkung."
"We hope that this dedication and other initiatives will improve race relations and build further respect between cultures," said Beaulieu. "It's a beginning of understanding of our culture, and the bringing together of people as human beings and go forward in a good way that we can all be respected when we come to Bemidji."
Healing through Truth
Elaine Fleming, Professor of History, at Leech Lake Tribal College spoke on "Healing through Truth: Shaynowishkung and the Time Period in Which He Lived."
"Shaynowishkung" means "he who rattles," began Fleming as she shook the rattle in her hands. "According to Ojibwe culture, a rattle is used to shake away negativity."
"When Shaynowishkung walked the land of Bemijigamaag between 1834 and 1904, times were not always good," said Fleming. "There were atrocities. Many settlers do not know of or remember the Sandy Lake Tragedy. Native people had walked from all over northern Minnesota to get the goods they were promised. Then some 400 people died after annuities failed to be delivered for the winter. Treaties were dishonored."
"But that's not all," Fleming went on. "Dams were built that flooded villages and graveyards with no consultation with the Indigenous peoples. Then came the assimilation era, when Ojibwe children were taken from their parents, often at a very young age, and sent to boarding schools and 'Christianized'."
"I cannot begin to tell you the things that happened to the Ojibwe people in the 70 years of Shaynowishkung's life," said Fleming. "It's unimaginable."
Honoring through Art:
The dedication also included remarks on 'Honoring through Art' from statue sculptor Gareth Curtiss. The committee chose artist Gareth Curtiss of Olympia, Wash., to bring Shaynowishkung from the 1800s into 2015. The two previous wooden carvings of Chief Bemidji can now be seen at the Beltrami County History Center.
Curtiss has 30 years experience in bronze casting and has created sculptures throughout the Country. Curtiss made the 17-hour trip from Olympia to Bemidji to witness the dedication. "This project is close to my heart more than any other job," said Curtiss clutching his heart. "I'll always treasure the experience and this day."
"I felt a great connection when I saw what I thought were very powerful photographic images of Shaynowishkung," said Curtiss.
After his speech, the statue committee presented Curtiss with a beautiful blanket, as is the custom among the Ojibwe as a sign of thanks and respect.
At the conclusion of Curtiss' speech, Tribal and local dignitaries as well as the family of Shaynowishkung were scheduled to address the audience. It had begun to rain, which perhaps made the speeches a little shorter than they might have been.
Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe District 3 Representative LeRoy Staples Fairbanks III spoke on behalf of the Leech Lake Tribal Council. Charles Dolson, executive administrator for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians spoke on behalf of Red Lake Chairman Darrell G. Seki, Sr., and the Council, and Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht addressed the crowd on behalf of the city now covered by an umbrella.
Fairbanks said that Shaynowishkung was a man of peace and community. "It's a proud day for us...and a beautiful, beautiful statue. There is progress in Bemidji for improving race relations. I am thinking of the Ojibwe signage about town, the Bemijigamaag Powwow, the beginnings of a Truth and Reconciliation effort, and now the new statue. We're moving forward, taking steps in the right direction," Fairbanks said. "In order to get there, we need to accept the real truth."
Dolson said, "The statue dedication is part of the healing that's needed in the community. We look forward to building on the friendship for the betterment of all communities. Change in the world involves relationships. We are building those relationships every day."
"The problem is we don't know how to talk, how to start the conversation," said Albrecht, "and it is things like this that bring people together that allow that conversation to begin. I hope the friendships we make here today will grow beyond this event and our community will continue on a path of inclusiveness and respect for one another."
Shaynowishkung Family: "The Family's Perspective"
Donnie Headbird, of Leech Lake and the great-great grandson of Shaynowishkung, then spoke about the family perspective. Several of Headbird's family members who live in Texas, and whom he had never met, drove to Bemidji specifically to witness the dedication of the Shaynowishkung statue. He invited this extended family, and the family still living on the Leech Lake Reservation to share the podium with him.
Headbird concluded his remarks with, "It is my hope and dream that this dedication and the memory and life of Shaynowishkung makes us all come together. That's what he was all about."
The rain coming down a little harder now, people lined up for a walleye feast generously provided by Leech Lake Gaming and Catering. The blessing was by Larry Aitken. Some of the non-Indians learned a little more of Indian culture enjoying a meal free of charge, and some non-Indian elders were pleasantly surprised when it was announced, "we ask for your assistance in serving elders first."
For the second time in as many months Minnesota's three Indian Nations and their common border-town community, Bemidji, got together to share their culture and begin a healing. Like the Bemijigamaag powwow held in April, non-Indians present at the Shaynowishkung dedication got exposed to Ojibwe culture. Again, they heard the Drum, the Ojibwe language being spoken, flute playing, a meal without cost, and the Indigenous cultural value of respect for elders.
Over 90% of all respondents to a 2009 survey commissioned by Shared Vision stated they wanted to get to know people from other cultural and racial groups, and a large portion of respondents from both racial groups wanted to know more about local American Indian culture and history.
The recent Bemijigamaag Powwow taught more about Indian culture, and the Shaynowishkung statue dedication taught about Ojibwe history before the arrival of settlers. "If we claim to be residents of this land, then we must claim and respect all the history and cultural of this land, not just the history since 1895," noted one non-Indian observer.
Truth and Reconciliation has begun in north central Minnesota's Ojibwe Country. Shared Vision, Bemidji's Ojibwe Language Project, Grand Rapids Indigenous Peoples Day, Ojibwe language revitalization, city flags being flown at half mast in respect for the Red Lake tragedy, Bemidji's Roger Jourdain Day, the Bemijigamaag Powwow, and now Shaynowishkung statue dedication with it's truthful, educational accompanying plaques. A Truth and Reconciliation Group has formed in the Bemidji area, one of the first in the nation. You'll be hearing more soon. These are highly symbolic gestures and events that hopefully will lead to a great healing.
BSU's Professor of Ojibwe, fluent Ojibwe speaker, and prolific author Anton Treuer recently said of the healing activities taking place in Bemidji; "Anything that's going to provide a really meaningful opportunity to look at shared experience and common investment and place in shared history, that really improves our chances of diffusing the still-lingering tensions that are out there and the legitimate issues we still need to deal with."
"Truth and reconciliation doesn't happen in an event or in a statue, but those things symbolize a greater effort ongoing in our region to make the world a better place and so I see it as a positive step forward."
"The injury of one shall be considered the injury of all; the comfort of each, the comfort of all; the honor of one, the honor of all," ~The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Baha'i Teaching.
"Everything is a circle. Take a look about you, the first circle is the drum, then we form a larger circle around them, and so on until we encompass the entire earth. Earth Mother, Father Sky, all our relatives, we ask our Grandfather, to bring all peoples together. We have enough people who look backward - those who remember - this is good, but we also need to look forward." ~Gichi-Ma'iingan, (Larry Stillday) Obaashiing, Notes of Biidaanakwad
Major Donors to the Shaynowishkung Statue Project include City of Bemidji, Beltrami County, George W. Neilson Foundation, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Carolyn Jacobs and Chuck Meyer, Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, Joseph and Janice Lueken Foundation, Alan Brew.
Wording of the Four Plaques Near Shaynowishkung Follows:
He Who Rattles · Chief Bemidji
Shaynowishkung was born about 1834 near Inger, Minnesota. He Who Rattles is the English translation of his Ojibwemowin name. As a young man, he hunted and harvested throughout this area, which had been a village site, gathering place and thoroughfare for thousands of years.
In 1860 he and Gaagige-aanakwadookwe, Forever Cloud Woman, were married. When she died in 1882, he moved with his children and other families to the South shore of Bemijigamaag (Lake Bemidji). This Ojibwe place name describes the way the Mississippi River flows crosswise through the lake. As a respected elder in his 50s, Shaynowishkung was present as white settlers moved to this area in 1888. Accounts in newspapers later referred to him as Chief Bemidji.
He had been living at his home on the lake for over a decade when the Great Northern Railroad surveyed a route directly through his property. To keep his land, he tried to secure an allotment and even offered to relinquish his tribal affiliation in order to claim a homestead, all to no avail. In 1900 Shaynowishkung and the people of his village were removed to the Cass Lake (Leech Lake) Reservation. Three years later his home was razed to make room for the mill yards of the Crookston Lumber Co.
In 1904, at age 70, Shaynowishkung died of pneumonia at his allotment northwest of Kitchi Lake. Hundreds came to Bemidji to honor him. Flags were flown at half-mast and businesses were closed. The funeral was one of the largest, most impressive events ever held in the city at that time.
His body lay in state at City Hall until a large procession, including the City Council and several civic societies, marched to Greenwood Cemetery where he was buried with honors (Bemidji Pioneer, 1904). There are conflicting accounts of Shaynowishkung's burial site; some suggest he was buried in the Mission area near Cass Lake.
Dedicated June 6, 2015
Artist: Gareth Curtiss · Commissioned by the City of Bemidji
The Statue Committee included six of Shaynowishkung's descendants whose participation was invaluable.
Promises Made, Promises Broken
The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians, their lands and property shall never be taken from them without-their consent...~Northwest Ordinance July 13, 1787
Shaynowishkung's life in this region spanned a time of great change for indigenous people in Minnesota and across the country. As self-sufficient sovereign nations the Ojibwe inhabited all of northern Minnesota. Their way of life, tied closely to the land itself, had sustained them for centuries. White settlement and broken US treaties threatened this existence.
During this time federal policy toward American Indians resulted in a great loss of land. Many tribes resisted the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which opened up land for white settler expansion by moving indigenous Americans to territory west of the Mississippi River. The 1837 Treaty with the Chippewa was the first large land cession in which Ojibwe retained usufructuary (inherent) rights to hunt, fish and gather on ceded lands.
By 1880 reservoir system development resulted in dams built on Ojibwe lands–without their consent–to benefit business interests throughout the state. Damming the headwaters caused the flooding of Ojibwe graveyards, wild rice beds, cranberry bogs, sugar maple groves, gardens and villages, further threatening the Ojibwe way of life.
In 1887, the Dawes Allotment Act called for individual ownership of communally held tribal lands. The plan was for Indians to become farmers who would assimilate into general society. Remaining lands were opened up to settlers and logging or taken through fraudulent means.
The Nelson Act of 1889, titled An Act for the Relief and Civilization of the Chippewa Indians in the State of Minnesota was intended to remove all Ojibwe in the state to the White Earth Reservation. Many resisted such resettlement. The Red Lake Band steadfastly refused allotment and relocation.
Throughout these times the Ojibwe demanded that legal obligations be honored, such as fair payment owed for lands ceded and lands flooded. Treaty promises continued to be ignored, and Ojibwe land diminished from 138 million acres in 1887 to 48 million acres in 1934. Claims pertaining to many of these past matters remain unresolved today.
Tragedy and Survival
Here now, it is winter, and not a dollar of their annuities, which by solemn treaty stipulations...ought to have been paid months ago, have any of these destitute tribes received. ~Minnesota Pioneer November 21, 1850
As the result of many broken treaty agreements, the Anishinaabe of this region, including Shaynowishkung and his family, saw great tragedy including displacement, starvation and death. The 1850 Sandy Lake Tragedy saw 400 Ojibwe suffer and die in three months. They had been forced to travel to Sandy Lake to receive annuity payments, but government agents failed to arrive on the appointed date. In the interim, living conditions deteriorated as a harsh winter set in. The Ojibwe came to know Sandy Lake as the place where they buried their friends.
We have been called here, and made to suffer by sickness, by death, by hunger and cold. I lay it all to him...the Governor [Ramsey]. Tell him I blame him for the children we have lost, for the sickness we have suffered and for the hunger we have endured. The fault rests on his shoulders. ~Eshkibagikoonzh, Chief Flat Mouth, December 3, 1850
The 1862 Dakota War–the direct result of widespread poverty and starvation–occurred when the Dakota demanded that promised annuity payments for land be made directly to them, rather than through the traders, whose fairness was in question. When the traders learned of this they refused to sell provisions on credit.
So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass or their own dung. ~Andrew Myrick, August 15, 1862
Warfare broke out among the Dakota and the settlers, and many hundreds died. Trials and sentencing of over 1,000 Dakota led to the hanging of 38 warriors in Mankato on December 26, 1862. Shaping the future of Minnesota, this remains the largest mass execution in US History.
The Battle of Sugar Point in 1898 was a result of conflicts between Leech Lake Ojibwe and the US government over reservation timber sales. Timber companies were breaking the law, paying the tribe a fraction of negotiated timber prices. Shaynowishkung is said to have warned Bemidji residents of the pending danger, prompting women and children to move to safety.
Despite tragedy and injustice, indigenous people of Bemidji and across the US have survived. They continue to heal and rebuild healthy nations in order to live Bimaadiziwin – a good life.
Leader and Peacemaker
I wish you would listen in pity to my words for only a few moments. You see that I am now nothing but a corpse, but I will try to speak my mind to you. Regarding...our removal, what shall we do when we get there? How shall we manage to get ahead so that we can become self-supporting? How shall we subsist when you have anchored us there? We will be very much obliged to you if you will please state to us what we may expect when we get there and what our progress will be... ~Shaynowishkung, speaking at the Rice Commission Council at Gull Lake, questioning officials regarding attempts to remove all Ojibwe to White Earth, Aug. 3, 1889
Look at me, whites...I have a good heart. I heard in Cass Lake today what the paper said about trouble again. I am not one that is going to fight; I don't want to fight. ~Shaynowishkung, an elder, speaking about non-Indians having to leave town land where they had been illegally squatting, Cass Lake Times, June 29, 1899
Newspaper accounts describe Shaynowishkung as an orator, a spokesperson and a man of wisdom and peace, who helped address difficult issues facing the people of Bemidji. Shaynowishkung became famous for his speech to
assembled braves during the Dakota War "when by his reasoning he prevented the Chippewa from joining the Sioux in the historic New Ulm Massacre." ~Blackduck American, 1904
Through his words and actions Shaynowishkung exemplified
the traditional values of the Anishinaabe:
Humility, Truth, Courage, Honesty, Respect, Love, Wisdom
Truth-telling is the basis for the acknowledgment of injustice and suffering and
the restoration of human dignity. This monument honors Shaynowishkung and the Anishinaabe people and encourages the healing of all people.
The honor of one is the honor of all.
~The Chief Bemidji Statue Committee
Gichi-miigwech to our Leadership Partners and to all whose gifts made this memorial possible:
City of Bemidji · George W. Neilson Foundation · Beltrami County ·
Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe · Joseph & Janice Lueken Family Foundation ·
Alan Brew · Carolyn Jacobs & Chuck Meyer ·
Sanford Bemidji Medical Center