Part of an occasional series highlighting examples of truth telling, education, and reparations with Indigenous and African American communities
The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe holds less of its original reservation lands than any other Ojibwe tribe in Minnesota. In fact, Leech Lake suffered more land loss than most other reservations in the United States due the efforts by lumber barons to get their hands on the band’s prized timber lands.
The federal government has a trust responsibility to Native Americans. Historically, it deemed Native American “incompetent” to manage their own affairs. The government was supposed to protect Native nations and their lands from fraud and abuse. In fact, the government actively participated in undermining treaty obligations and facilitated land sell-offs to private business interests.
This year, Congress approved a bill to return some 17 square miles to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, lands that had been “wrongly transferred” to the Chippewa National Forest, according to the Pioneer Press.
A Leech Lake tribal news release said: “The land restoration is the culmination of years of effort and will honor tribal sovereignty, allowing the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to invest in future generations and build more housing to accommodate their community.”
This is not charity. This is justice.
This is an act to be celebrated and a history to be mourned. While 17 square miles might seem like a lot, it’s a very small measure of repair given the amount of land stolen under the federal Dawes, Nelson, Morris, and Burke Acts of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Watching the current demise of Confederate monuments and Columbus statues, it’s time again to look at art in state Capitols and other public buildings and ask about the stories they tell.
During a recent visit to the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre, I found the Senate Chamber’s Louisiana Purchase mural particularly jarring. The central figure is a half naked Indigenous woman. The narrative its creates is that she is both hypersexualized and uncivilized.
An angel stands behind her, wrapping her in the civilizing influence of the U.S. flag, a symbol of assimilation.
The worldview they helped create still is alive today
This blog has written often about the Doctrine of Discovery: 15th century Catholic Church edicts that provided the moral and legal justification for European monarchs and their “explorers” to seize Indigenous lands and enslave, convert, or kill Indigenous peoples in lands which would become known as the “New World.”
The Doctrine of Discovery also includes papal edicts issued decades before Columbus sailed, edicts that justified Portugal’s west African slave trade. Continue reading →
Healing Minnesota Stories is remounting its traveling art exhibit that highlights racist art in public spaces and offering alternative student art as one path forward.
The exhibit, “Challenging Public Art,” will run from May 26 to June 30 at First Unitarian Society, 900 Mt Curve Ave, Minneapolis. A reception will be held on Sunday, June 9, noon-1 p.m. Jim Bear Jacobs, Director of Racial Justice for the Minnesota Council of Churches and Healing Minnesota Stories founder, will speak on the exhibit.
Tucked away in room on the Capitol’s third floor hangs a student art exhibit with the unifying theme of “Clean Water Starts with Me.”
The theme just as well could have been: “Water is Life.”
I was particularly struck with by a piece by high school student Claudia St. Germaine (above) with lakes and pines. It creates a typical northern Minnesota scene, perhaps one of the areas where the giant Canadian corporation Enbridge is proposing to dig a large trench to bury a 36-inch pipeline carrying tar sands crude oil, the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world.
This pipeline is the kind of project that threatens our clean drinking water, something too many state officials have chosen to ignore. Continue reading →
A quick update on how other communities are dealing with controversial public art: The University of Notre Dame has announced it will cover controversial Columbus murals, according to an article in the Smithsonian Magazine. It begins:
For more than 130 years, 12 towering murals depicting Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas have flanked a hallway in the University of Notre Dame’s Main Building. But late last week, the university announced that it plans to cover the murals; in a letter explaining the decision, Notre Dame’s president described the artworks as memorializing “a catastrophe” for indigenous peoples.
This is part of a national conversation about public art. St. Paul could learn from Notre Dame’s example.
Task Force Volunteers Sought to Help Select Artists for New Installations in Chambers Used by the City Council and Ramsey County Commission
Four large murals in St. Paul City Hall depict white supremacy and Manifest Destiny, creating an unwelcoming space for many citizens who come there to speak to their elected council members and county commissioners. The Ramsey County Historical Society is creating a task force of community members to select and guide local artists in creating new art that will cover two of the four murals at any one time.
Advocacy still is needed to convince local leaders that all four murals should be moved to a different location, such as a museum. Still, there is a great opportunity for people to help select the new art. The Historical Society is seeking task force applicants, according to a recent posting on the Historical Society website. Chad Roberts, President of the Ramsey County Historical Society, will chair the 11-member group.
The Pew Charitable Trust’s Stateline publication ran a story — In Wake of Charlottesville, New Scrutiny for Native American Statues — that reported on a number of public art changes and challenges going on across the country. For instance, in Kalamazoo, Mich., officials removed a granite sculpture from the city’s Fountain of the Pioneers, showing “a pioneer, weapon raised, rising above a Native American.”
Last week, Austin, Texas’ Equity Office recommended renaming seven streets and removing three markers honoring Confederate history, “calling it a high priority for the city to decide,” according to a story in the Washington Post. Possible changes include renaming “Confederate Avenue” and “Dixie Drive.” Perhaps its most controversial recommendation was suggesting a possible name change for the city itself, since Stephen Austin worked to perpetuate slavery.
These issues are surfacing locally and nationally and represent deeply important community conversations. Continue reading →