Skip to main content

Hundreds gather to dedicate new statue of Chief Bemidji

  • Author:
  • Updated:

A new statue of Chief Bemidji was dedicated Saturday afternoon in the Minnesota city that bears his name.

An overflow crowd came to the dedication ceremony in a park near Lake Bemidji to honor the Ojibwe man named Shaynowishkung - nicknamed Chief Bemidji - who was the first permanent settler in the city, according to the Bemidji Pioneer.

The 9-foot, 3-inch, bronze-cast sculpture is the third statue of Shaynowishkung to be displayed on the shores of the lake.

The first two were made of wood and over time they deteriorated badly due to exposure to the elements. The most recent of the two was built in 1952. Once it began rotting it was coated with fiberglass, which distorted the facial features and gave the statue a "cartoonish" look, according to the Pioneer.

In 2009, tribal and community leaders began talking about replacing the statue with a more realistic depiction of Shaynowishkung. They commissioned a sculptor from Olympia, Wash., Gareth Curtis, who fashioned the piece after old photos of the chief, MPR News reports.

The first two statues are still around; they're on display at the Beltrami County History Center in Bemidji.

Who was Shaynowishkung?

Shaynowishkung was the first permanent settler in Bemidji. Some of the exact details of his life are unknown, but it's believed he was born around 1833 near Inger, Minn., lived in the Cass Lake area for a time, and moved to Bemidji around 1882 after his wife died, according to the Red Lake Nation News.

He was known as a peacemaker and helped the first white settlers in the area to survive, MPR News notes.

He wasn't actually a chief through family lines, though; the Pioneer said he was given that title because he was a spokesman for the people in his village.

A history of Bemidji, “A Walk Through Bemidji in 1910,” said Shaynowishkung lived near the city for 40 years and was “greatly esteemed” by the early settlers.

Shaynowishkung died in 1904, according to the author, Rosemary Given Amble. His funeral was held in front of City Hall, and is believed to be the largest ever held in Bemidji, Amble wrote.

The leaders of the statue committee hope that Shaynowishkung's legacy as a man of compromise will help build more respect between cultures in the area.

"He was a bridge-builder," Anton Treuer, executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University, told the Pioneer. "I think we need more of that now and going forward."

The new sculpture is just north of Bemidji's better-known statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

Next Up


What happens to the Vikings if Aaron Rodgers leaves the NFC North?

Rodgers said he isn't interested in rebuilding in Green Bay, is it time for the Vikings to pounce or stay the course?


Sheriff: Men found unresponsive in garage died of cocaine overdose

Two of the three men found unresponsive in an Eyota garage last week died of a drug overdose, a preliminary autopsy found.

Anthony Edwards

Ant's injury clouds Timberwolves' victory over the Nets

The Timberwolves star was injured in the final minutes on Sunday night.

Akoya Lee

Byron native Ayoka Lee sets NCAA record for points in a game

The Kansas State forward broke a record shared by former Gopher Rachel Banham.

cold, wind chill, freezing

It's going to be stupid cold again Tuesday and Wednesday

They'll almost certainly be the 10th and 11th days with subzero temps this month.

Williams Uptown Pub

Williams Uptown Pub & Peanut Bar closes indefinitely after shooting

Reports say police have arrested two suspects in the incident.

Alex Rodríguez

A-Rod wears a Packers hat, Minnesotans lose their minds

The Timberwolves co-owner didn't endear himself to his fan base on Saturday night.

Flickr - Minneapolis police squad - Chad Davis

Police: Man shoots into crowd at funeral reception in Minneapolis

The shooting happened at a reception following a funeral on Saturday afternoon.


Former President Clinton honors Humphrey at statue dedication

Former President Bill Clinton was in Minnesota Saturday to dedicate a statue at the state Capitol in honor of the late former Vice President and U.S. Sent. Hubert H. Humphrey. Clinton. "He believed that with a happy heart, and an open ear and an honest dialogue -- a lot of conflict could be resolved," Clinton said of Humphrey.

Jumbo birthday: State's biggest statues converge on Bemidji for Paul's 75th

Bemidji's birthday party for the landmark statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox has some big names on the guest list. The Jolly Green Giant will make the trip up from Blue Earth. Hermann the German is coming from New Ulm. Big Ole from Alexandria and Iron Man from Chisholm. Highway officials warn gawkers could cause traffic jams as all those big statues make their way into town.