April 15, 2010

Replacing Chief Bemidji statue

Small gestures help improve race relations in Bemidji

By Tom RobertsonOn a hillside overlooking Lake Bemidji, there's a statue of an Indian, a wood and fiberglass figure known as Chief Bemidji. The statue depicts a real Ojibwe person named Shaynowishkung, who befriended early white settlers in the late 1800s.

The problem with the 1950s-era statue is that some say it's not a respectful representation. At best, critics say it's a mediocre piece of folk art that's unflattering and short on artistic detail.

Members of Shared Vision, a group working to improve relations between Native Americans and whites, hope to replace it with a life-sized bronze sculpture.

For some Native Americans, a new statue would help unite people in Bemidji, where a study last year found that three-quarters of Indians, and 90 percent of those living on nearby reservations, think the Bemidji community is not welcoming to people of all races.
Comment:  From what we can see of the statue, it does look lame. It reminds me of the Massasoit and bear statues I've reported on. Neither one was an appropriate honor for the people it supposedly represented.

For more on the subject, see Racism in Bemidji and Best Indian Monuments to Topple.

Below:  "Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe members, left to right, Nikki Headbird, Donnie Headbird, Bev Raish and Jody Bellanger stand in front of the Bemidji statue of Shay-now-ish-kung, better known as Chief Bemidji. They support an effort to replace the statue with a more dignified bronze sculpture." (MPR Photo/Tom Robertson)


Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:


Bemidji City Council:  Chief Bemidji statue on council agenda

The Bemidji City Council will consider a request Monday to support a project seeking a new, more realistic statue of Chief Bemidji for the Library Park area.

Rob said...


Project to replace Chief Bemidji statue expands into research

The community is about to learn a whole lot more about the American Indian who was the first to welcome the non-native settlers to the area.

An ongoing effort to replace the existing wooden Chief Bemidji statue along the Lake Bemidji waterfront has broadened. The goal now is to not only commission a new statue of Shaynowishkung, but to also publish a corresponding educational brochure that informs about the man and the role he played in this community’s history.

And a range of people are making that happen.

Assisting the Chief Bemidji Statue Committee--the champion of the project--are college students and staff with the Beltrami County History Center.

Elaine Fleming teaches a course titled History of Leech Lake at the Leech Lake Tribal College. The main project for her students this fall is to research the era during which Shaynowishkung lived. As part of that project, they are examining his life.