Native Americans and enslaved Africans included in the sculpture were neither immigrants nor refugees
On Friday, the sculpture “Angels Unawares” arrived in front of the Minneapolis Basilica of St. Mary, an effort to call attention to both the suffering and sacredness of immigrants and refugees and the importance of welcoming them with an open heart.
The statue is a replica of one commissioned by Pope Francis, installed in St. Peter’s Square in Rome in 2019. It was the first new sculpture in the Square in 400 years. A replica statue is on a U.S. tour; previous stops included Boston and Miami.
The sculpture includes 140 immigrants and refugees crowded on a boat, representing different cultures from different historical times. Its 140 figures echo the 140 statues of saints on St. Peter’s Square.
I’ve been updating this blog since I posted it. I want to acknowledge up front the good intentions behind this project. During a time of anti-immigrant sentiment, the sculpture brings an important message of tolerance and compassion. It encourages empathy instead of hostility towards more recent immigrants and refugees, such as Somali, Hmong, Mexican and Central American people. Kudos for that.
At the same time, the sculpture includes a Native American and enslaved Africans on a boat full of immigrants and refugees, suggesting some commonality. There is little if any commonality.
I worry this is too preachy, but I also want to be direct: At a time when faith communities are wrestling with racial justice and truth telling, this sculpture miscasts the Native American and enslaved African experiences. By including them as just two narratives in a boatload of immigration stories, it ignores their unique experiences and arguments for reparations that are now gaining steam.
Ramsey County DA Choi employees restorative justice practice to reach agreement
Mike Forcia, a leader in the American Indian Movement and the only person charged for bringing down the Columbus statue on the Minnesota Capitol Mall June 10, will receive a suspended sentence and do 100 hours of community service.
Ramsey County District Attorney John Choi created restorative justice circles to help reach a decision on the appropriate punishment. (Such circles are becoming more main stream, but have long been a part of Native American cultures.)
The sentencing agreement included powerful acknowledgements from both sides of this case regarding the harms done.
Ramsey County Prosecutor Sarah Corey acknowledged the failure of the public system to address long-standing community concerns about the statue. People had been trying to use legal means to remove the statue that “received little to no consideration,” she said.
Forcia acknowledged the harms he had done both the the Italian-American and Native American communities.
Oklahoma launched a new branding campaign stunning in its 19th Century worldview and its failure to acknowledge the state’s Indigenous history and continued presence. It drew immediate rebukes. Here’s an eye-popping branding statement from the initial roll out:
This is a place that was built from scratch, made by people who gave up everything to come here from all over the world to create something for themselves and their families. We started this place with a land run in 1889 — and honestly, we’re still running, still making, still pioneering.
Emily Larson became Duluth’s first female mayor in 2016, and one of the changes she’s brought to City Hall is new art for the walls. It’s a lesson that other civic leaders should follow.
The Duluth Art Institute now helps curate rotating art exhibits in City Hall’s rotunda and the Mayor’s reception room. The first rotunda installation (2018) was a series of Anishinaabe art by Anishinaabe artists, said Christina Woods, the Institute’s executive director. Another installation focused on what it’s like to be homeless in Duluth, including artistic renditions of recipes from the street.
“Lots of people living on the streets have beautiful art to offer and never have a chance to have gallery space,” Woods said. “It goes deep in building awareness among public officials about what life is like when you don’t have a home to go to or a place to keep your things.” Continue reading →
My wife, I and two friends traveled to Osceola, Wisconsin last weekend to take 90-minute train ride to enjoy the fall colors.
The eye-opener for me was the “Chief Osceola” statue in the center of the town of about 2,500 that still seems stuck in the 1950s.
The statue has the stereotypical Plains Indian look, a half-naked man with an eagle-feather headdress, nothing like what Osceola actually looked like. It’s more town mascot than honoring the town’s namesake.
I’ll admit that there are many more pressing issues for indigenous peoples than one more offensive statue. There’s the loss of traditional indigenous languages, environmental threats to wild rice, homelessness, crude oil pipelines and more.
I still feel compelled to write about the statue and how it’s interpreted.
Healing Minnesota Stories is having a talk and reception for its traveling art exhibit “Challenging Public Art” this Sunday, noon – 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society, 900 Mt Curve Ave, Minneapolis.
The exhibit highlights racist art in public spaces and offers alternative student art as one path forward.
Jim Bear Jacobs, Healing Minnesota Stories founder and Director of Racial Justice for the Minnesota Council of Churches, will speak on the exhibit. The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments served. Please join us if you can.
The exhibit will stay through June 30. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in hosting a showing.
A community Task Force created by the Ramsey County Historical Society has begun work to change the art — and the racist narratives it promotes — in the chambers shared by the St. Paul City Council and Ramsey County Courthouse.
The Task Force held its first meeting more than a month ago and but some basic details still are in the works. For instance, the names of Task Force members have not been released as the list is not yet final.
The Task Force expects to complete its work by November or December, according to an update from Chad Roberts, the Historical Society’s executive director. Continue reading →