Bemidji poised to replace historic statue

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A statue that’s been sitting on the shore of Lake Bemidji since the 1950s is another step closer to being replaced.

The statue is known as “Chief Bemidji.” It depicts a real Ojibwe person named Shaynowishkung, who lived in the Bemidji area in the 1880s and was said to be the first Native American to greet European immigrants when they arrived in 1888.

A statue honoring Shaynowishkung was carved by a Danish lumberjack in 1901. That one deteriorated and was replaced in 1952.

The problem with the “Chief Bemidji” statue, according to a committee working to replace it, is that it’s mediocre folk art, at best, and not a dignified representation. Living descendants of Shaynowishkung agree. A movement to replace the statue began last year, and the effort got public support from the Bemidji community, as well as Ojibwe tribal members from the three surrounding reservations.

Now, the Chief Bemidji Statue Project committee has established a fund at Northwest Minnesota Foundation for the purpose of accepting contributions. The funds will be used to commission an artist to create a new, realistic sculpture of Shaynowishkung. The new statue will be located close to the same spot as the old one. The current statue will be moved to the local history museum.

The committee hopes to raise $116,500 through grants and donations. The George W. Neilson Foundation recently awarded the project a $25,000 grant, with a requirement of equal matching funds.

To make a tax-deductible donation, make checks payable to “Chief Bemidji Statue Project Fund” and mail to: Northwest Minnesota Foundation, 4225 Technology Drive NW, Bemidji, MN 56601.

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