Bemidji Takes Step Forward in Truth Telling … And “This Date in History”

Plaques to honor Chief Bemidji and the Anishinaabe people, and acknowledge historic attrocities

The Bemidji Pioneer reported April 21 that the City Council approved a statue and a series of four plaque to honor Shaynowishkung (known as Chief Bemidji) and the entire Anishinaabe people. They will be installed in Paul Bunyan/Liberty Park. According to the news story, the plaques also will “acknowledge historical atrocities against Minnesota’s American Indian population.” The vote to install the sculpture and plaques narrowly passed on a 4-3 vote. The story continued:

Two of the plaques, one called “Promises Made, Promises Broken” and the other called “Tragedy and Survival,” also recount events that didn’t directly involve Bemidji or Shaynowishkung. But his lifetime, from 1834-1904, coincided with a period of great turmoil for the Anishinaabe and American Indians throughout Minnesota, including the Dakota War in the 1860s that culminated in the largest mass execution in American history, and the Dawes Allotment Act in 1887, which partitioned Indian lands and forced many into poverty.

However, some council members were opposed to the language on the second and third plaques that described the atrocities, saying it wasn’t relevant to Chief Bemidji himself and that people wouldn’t stay to read all four plaques.

For the full text, here is the link to The Bemidji Pioneer story.

This Day in History: Historic White House Meeting

April 29, 1994: On this day, President Clinton held a Summit to which all the federally recognized tribes were invited, something that had never happened before, according to the New York Times. (Truth be told, Native leaders were upset with Clinton at the time because he had proposed a 13 percent cut to the Indian Health Service in his 1995 budget.)

In his remarks at the Summit, Clinton spoke of the importance of religious freedom. He signed a memorandum on the Distribution of Eagle Feathers for Indian Religious Purposes. It said:

Eagle feathers hold a sacred place in Native American culture and religious practices. Because of the feathers’ significance to Native American heritage and consistent with due respect for the government-to-government relationship between the Federal and Native American tribal governments, this Administration has undertaken policy and procedural changes to facilitate the collection and distribution of scarce eagle bodies and parts for this purpose.

Clinton directed federal departments and agencies to work cooperatively with tribal governments and “to seek opportunities to accommodate Native American religious practices to the fullest extent under the law.”

(It is important to remember that for most of U.S. history, the First Amendment did not protect Native American religious practices. It was not until 1978 that Congress passed  the American Indian Religious Freedom  Act.)


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