Angels Unawares revisited: On immigrants, refugees, and America’s original sins

Unveiling of ‘Angels Unawares’ in front of the Basilica Sunday.

The Rev. Kelly Sherman-Conroy, a member of the Ogala Sioux Nation and an ordained ELCA pastor, doesn’t like to use the term “forced migration” when referring to how European settlers forced Indigenous peoples from their lands.

“For me that kind of tidies up the word ‘genocide,'” she said.

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15th century papal edicts authorized the African slave trade, Indigenous land seizures

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

Fly, Space Bird, fly! Duluth City Hall changes up its artwork, bringing in new artists, colors, and stories

Space Bird by Michael, a middle school student in Duluth, is part of the latest rotating art exhibit in the Duluth City Hall, an effort to decolonize the art in this important civic space, and bring in new artists and new ideas.

Left: A bust of Michael Colalillo, a Duluth west sider, son of Italian immigrants, and a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
Right: New student artwork from “Our Neighbors” exhibit.

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

The Song of Hiawatha, Minneapolis place names, and the hidden message of Manifest Destiny

Lake Nokomis (Grandmother Lake), Minneapolis (Photo: Wikipedia)

Significant Minneapolis place names come from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha: Hiawatha Avenue, Lake Hiawatha, the Hiawatha Light Rail Line, Lake Nokomis, Minnehaha Avenue, Minnehaha Park, Minnehaha Falls, and Minnehaha Creek.

The poem’s opening lines are fairly well known: “On the shores of Gitche Gumee, Of the shining Big-Sea-Water, Stood Nokomis, the old woman, Pointing with her finger westward … ” The poem is a fictional and tragic love story between Hiawatha, an Ojibwe man, and Minnehaha, a Dakota woman. A popular statue at Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis commemorates the poem.

Less well known is that the Song of Hiawatha is a story of Manifest Destiny — the idea that white Europeans had God on their side and God’s blessing to take Indigenous lands and convert Indigenous peoples. Longfellow’s poem is a deluded fairy tale of how Indigenous peoples would gently give up their traditional customs and become Christians. It papers over the brutal realities of land theft, forced assimilation, broken treaties and genocide that was occurring during Longfellow’s day and have continued thereafter.

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19th Century Manifest Destiny Policy Continues to Inflict Harm on Indigenous People

Manifest Destiny continues to inflict harm on indigenous peoples. The latest example comes from a story in Indian Country Today, which reports on the 1872 General Mining Act and how it could allow a Canadian mining company to poison the waters in the traditional territory of the Tinglit people of Alaska. Continue reading

Bison Slaughter of the Late 1800s Has Done Lasting Damage to Plains Indian Nations Today, Study Says

Descendants of Native Nations That Relied on Buffalo Have Less Wealth, Poorer Health, Greater Suicide Risk

1892: bison skulls await industrial processing at Michigan Carbon Works in Rogueville (a suburb of Detroit). Bones were used processed to be used for glue, fertilizer, dye/tint/ink, or were burned to create”bone char” which was an important component for sugar refining. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

A study released by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis late last year bares the academic title: “The Slaughter of the Bison and Reversal of Fortunes on the Great Plains” but the picture it paints is one of deep and lasting suffering.

The study looked at members of indigenous nations in the Great Plains, Northwest, and Rocky Mountains where buffalo had once been a primary food source for their ancestors and central to their cultures. According to the study:

Once the tallest people in the world, the generations of bison-reliant people born after the slaughter were among the shortest. Today, formerly bison-reliant societies have between 20-40% less income per capita than the average Native American nation. …

We find increased levels of suicide and news reports of social dislocation among formerly bison-reliant tribes, suggesting that the bison’s decline may have generated a psychological impact that has persisted across generations. This result is consistent with the psychological literature on historical trauma …

Arguably, the decline of the bison was one of the largest devaluations of human capital in North American history …

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Problematic St. Paul City Murals to be Covered, and other News and Events

In this blog:

  • MPR: Problematic St. Paul city murals to be covered … sometimes
  • MPR: Sacred Prairie Island pipe reclaimed
  • New Exhibit at All My Relations Gallery: Responsibilities and Obligations Understanding Mitákuye Oyásʼiŋ
  • MPR: New shelter opens for homeless people at Hiswatha camp
  • Star Tribune: Push to more aggressively fight crime on tribal land
  • Washington Post’s gaffe in its Reds*ins coverage

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Official Government Seals and Their Painful Mythologies

We have been reviewing art in state capitols and the hidden stories of domination and conquest, and one of the interesting sub-genres are the artwork and mottoes on state seals.

A government seal is an important thing. It is an emblem, figure or symbol that tells the reader that this document is official and authentic. It says a lot about how a people (well, at least people in power) see themselves.

Battle Creek 1I was inspired to do a recap of official government seals when I saw a news item on the City Seal of Battle Creek, a Michigan town of about 52,000. From what I remember watching television as a kid, Battle Creek is where Kellogg’s Corn Flakes come from. The City motto doesn’t disappoint, it reads: “Breakfast Capital of the World.” The major images are a traditional Native man (with feathers), a surveyor mapping the land, a sail boat and a city skyline.

WMUK, Western Michigan University’s radio station, just ran an item on its webpage headlined: “Uncovering the Real Battle Creek City Seal.” It said the city seal you see above was adopted in 1981 for promotional purposes, something to use for things like city vehicles and public flyers. But it was never intended to replace the original seal — which shows a white surveyor clubbing a Native American. That’s still the official seal used for official business. But it seems city officials are embarrassed by it, because you can’t find the image on the city’s webpage. (Click here of the official seal, shown on a stained glass window.) Continue reading