Should details of historical atrocities be included with American Indian statue?


On Monday night, the Bemidji City Council was set to "consider plaque language" for the Shaynowishkung statue being dedicated this June in the city's Library Park.

But considering plaque language turned into what the Bemidji Pioneer describes as a "spirited, sometimes racially charged debate" over what portions of history should – or shouldn't – be included.

It's the latest chapter in what's been years of planning and pauses in the effort to replace the current statue. Here's how we got to this point.

Shaynowishkung, aka 'Chief Bemidji'

Shaynowishkung (often referred to as "Chief Bemidji"), is an American Indian that was said to be the first to welcome non-native settlers when they arrived in the area in 1888, Red Lake Nation News says.

He was not actually a chief, but is described as a "spokesperson" for a group of American Indian people there. He died in 1904.

MPR said a statue was built in his honor in 1901; it was replaced in 1952 after it deteriorated.

In 2010, a committee began working to replace that statue, MPR reported, saying the gun-toting Shaynowishkung portrayed is "not a dignified representation."

Since then, the project has hurdled a series of obstacles.

The most recent came in September of 2014, when the dedication ceremony had to be postponed because of "technical difficulties with the casting process," the Shaynowishkung Statue Project announced.

The divisive plaque language

The project includes "educational plaques," affixed to four pillars and there to provide historical information about Shaynowishkung and American Indian history, the project's Facebook page says.

What should be on those plaques is what got the city council into its spirited debate Monday.

The Bemidji Pioneer reports the plaques were seen by some as a way to be up front about some of the atrocities committed against Shaynowishkung and other American Indian tribes.

Those against the plaques argue the project wasn't intended to be a "history lesson," and note that some of the quotes and historical events included on the plaques don't relate directly to Shaynowishkung, the Pioneer says.

Supporters however argue those quotes and events give important context to what he went through, and say it's important not to diminish what actually happened by hiding the facts.

In the end, the city council voted 4-3 in favor of the plaques.

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