From: Anne Scott Plummer
Professor, Department of Art and Design
Winona State University
A mural on the Winona State University campus, built by sculpture students in honor of hundreds of indigenous Tribal Entities, is being dismantled and likely to be forgotten by many in our community. The temporary mural was erected as part of Indigenous People’s Day, declared and celebrated on October 10, 2016, by WSU, Minnesota State College Southeast, and the city of Winona. It was dismantled by art students on Monday, April 17, starting at 12:45 p.m.
As part of the celebration on that day last October, sculpture students invited students from across campus to help write the names of the 566 Tribal Entities that are recognized by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs onto the curved face of the 16’ x 4’ mural. On the other side, the art students painted a view of Winona at sunrise, looking down river, with a Medicine Wheel representing the rising sun.
The center of campus in front of the Performing Arts Center was chosen as the site for this mural because there is also a sculpture located there that is offensive to First People. The early 20th century “End of the Trail” bronze sculpture, by Winona native James Fraser, depicts a distressed Native American on horseback – both look like they are at death’s door. A widely-held view at the time, that persists among some even today, was that Native Americans were at “The End of the Trail” and would soon be “extinct.” In fact, there are hundreds more Tribal Entities throughout the United States waiting to be federally recognized, to join the ranks of the 566 already acknowledged.
The sculpture students learned about the offensive sculpture and some of the history surrounding it by meeting with a student representative of the WSU Turtle Island Student Organization (TISO), a history professor who has researched and published a book about the nearby Dakota people, and the director of the campus Knowledge, Empowerment, Advocacy and Pluralism (KEAP) center. In addition to creating the mural, they helped publicize the Indigenous People’s Day declaration and celebration with T-shirts, lawn signs, flyers and an information table.
The mural was intended to serve as a reminder to the campus at large that we need to recontextualize this outdated, offensive “End of the Trail” sculpture with something that honors the Indigenous people who were the first to live in our beautiful river valley. Work has started to accomplish this goal, and we hope the initiative will continue to move forward. The temporary mural is being dismantled; let’s keep alive the expectation for a permanent way to honor our Native American brothers and sisters.