Remove the "Fountain of the Pioneers" to Cease Ongoing Trauma for Native-American Citizens
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In 1939, the Fountain of the Pioneers was constructed in Bronson Park in downtown Kalamazoo, MI. It was dedicated June 6, 1940. The artist, Alfonso Ianelli, stated that “the scheme of the fountain conveys the advance of the pioneers and the generations that follow, showing the movement westward, culminating in the tower-symbol of the pioneer while the Indian is shown in a posture of noble resistance, yet being absorbed as the white man advances; the pattern of the parapet rail indicates the rich vegetation and produce of the land.”
Dating from before the dedication of the fountain, it is documented that the imagery produced by the statue was contested. From the 1970s to present, groups including the American Indian Movement and others representing social justice and Native-American rights have worked together to raise awareness that the statue is offensive and harmful to Native-American people and represents hostility to other oppressed groups. Although a large amount of the White population in Kalamazoo is documented to express a belief that the statue is a representation that reminds them of the horror caused by European domination of Native-Americans, we as Native-Americans find it is a reminder of long overdue justice after brutal and inhumane treatment following European contact. The Fountain has been recognized by many who contest it as a commemoration to the ideology of White supremacy. Elders have spoken about how viewing the sword in the hand of the pioneer wielding over the bowed Native leader is reminiscent of the violence Native-Americans endured (and vast amounts of people succumbed to). For perspective, Native-Americans were only considered United States citizens in 1924 due to the Indian Citizenship Act, yet Native-Americans were not allowed to practice their religion until the Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, and in the 1970s at least 60,000 Native-American children were still participants of the American boarding schools designed to force their assimilation into Euro-American society and denounce Native-American languages and cultures. Native-Americans from different Indigenous nations locally, from surrounding areas, and nationally, have been suffering from intergenerational trauma due to the treatment received during the colonization of the United States and beyond, and have been pursuing healing (see last link to "The Wellbriety Journey of Forgiveness" on YouTube). Seeing the imagery presented by the statue reminds Native-Americans of the many years of fighting to merely live, and then to be seen as human and as respected members of society. As a Native-American psychologist and university professor stated when asked about possible removal, "Respect is one of the highest values you can assign to a human being. In the Fountain, the truth is not shown about who Native-American people are."
We ask Kalamazoo to respect Indigenous people and recognize our humanity and collective experiences of pain and trauma, which are exacerbated by the presence of the Fountain of the Pioneers in Kalamazoo, MI. We request its removal so that it will not continue to hurt Native-American people and others who attempt to reconcile their beliefs about kindness and safety in the community they live in based the representation of violence shown in the imagery. It is inappropriate to promote violence in a public place meant to be enjoyed by all. Native-Americans have the right to equal access of enjoyment to the public park without re-experiencing historical trauma. For more information about the Fountain of the Pioneers, the Master Plan for Bronson Park's reconstruction, and the experiences of Native-American people about some of the treatment and trauma they experienced for their Indigenous identity, please view the links below. Gichi-Miigwetch/Thank you very much.
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