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Old Chief Faces New Foes In Bemidji

Chief BemidjiFor a hundred years a statue of Chief Bemidji has stood in his namesake city of Bemidji, Minnesota. The current Chief has looked out over Lake Bemidjigamaug since 1952, replacing an earlier model that had fallen apart. Unlike that earlier version, however, this Chief has been well-tended, and probably is in better shape now than he was 25 years ago. The city apparently loves its Chief Bemidji statue.

But a group calling itself the Chief Bemidji Statue Project Committee wants to dump the current Chief in favor of a more upscale version. Why?

On its web page, the Committee calls the current statue “a comical rendition” and dismisses it as “the ‘play-dough’ Chief Bemidji.” It continues: “some things need to be respectfully taken down and cared for, leaving room for new imaginings based upon what we believe to be important today.”

“Cared for” in Committee-speak means that the current Chief would be dragged off to the Beltrami County Historical Society. “New imaginings” is a delicate way to say that the old statue would be replaced by a new one.

Chief BemidjiThe Committee wants to erect a life-size “or larger” realistic bronze statue of the Chief. This is a classic trade-off — replace an amusing old statue with one that exudes new relevance and sensitivity. Still, the current Bemidji is small and largely ignored by travelers, overshadowed by the bulky Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox just down the walk a ways.

Old photos of the Chief show him to be a worthy subject for a lifelike bronze statue, particularly a big one made of the new colored metal. Two Chiefs would be even better than one.

We just don’t think that this Committee speaks for its city when it talks of shoving the current Chief Bemidji indoors where he’ll never be seen. Bemidji is big enough for two Chiefs (it already has a statue of another famous Indian). Bring on bronze Bemidji, but leave the play-dough Chief alone!

Sections: Attraction News, Rants, Statues 3 Comments » Team Field Report

Chief Bemidji Statue

Beltrami County History Center

130 Minnesota Ave. SW, Bemidji, MN
Dragged off the street in July 2014 and banished to the Beltrami County History Center. From Hwy 197/Bemidji Ave. turn west onto 2nd St. NW. Drive two blocks. Turn left onto Minnesota Ave. The History Center is at the end of the street, in the old train station.
W-Sa 12-4 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $5
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3 Responses to “Old Chief Faces New Foes In Bemidji”

  1. K. Reid Says:
    March 23rd, 2010 at 10:51 am

    41 years ago my family moved to Bemidji and I have always admired play-dough “Chief Bemidji,” so a larger-than-life polished bronze statue would definitely be a better tribute and portrayal of “Chief Bemidji”. I believe play-dough chief should remain on display inside the Visitor’s Center with a plaque about the original statue and why it was replaced.

    This is a VERY sensitive issue and timely, with the Hot Topic of Native mascots portrayed like cartoon characters toting tomahawks and parading around like village idiots.

    So, if this is going to be done, PLEASE do it right! A respectable pose from pictures of him not a sitting pose where tourists will crawl in his lap to get pictures taken and wear down the polish to raw shiny bronze. Get aboriginal buy-in and feedback. Also, I believe the work should be offered and commissioned to local Aboriginal Indigenous artist(s) first.

  2. Sandy Kaul Says:
    March 23rd, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    I appreciate K. Reid’s thoughtful
    comments and ideas.

    This committee began with several members from Bemidji, Red Lake Reservation and Leech Lake Reservation who came together to discuss the fact that each of them felt that the current statue of “Chief Bemidji” was a demeaning and humiliating image of an Ojibwe man admired by natives and non-natives alike. If you take the time to look at the statue’s face you will see that it is quite embarassing as a city’s symbol of its namesake.

    The committee thought that it might be a good idea to engage the public in a discussion about this topic, and to especially listen to the native community and Chief Bemidji’s decendants.

    The committee will hold public meeting in Red Lake, Leech Lake, White Earth and Bemidji during May to listen and share information and ideas with those who are intersted in this project.

    The committee’s direction will be guided by the outcomes of the public meetings. Please see for more information.

  3. John Mason Says:
    June 23rd, 2010 at 8:56 am

    All of the hypersensitivity towards mascots, team names, and the like are exaggerated and ridiculous. It is time everyone just get on with things. The only reason for the “sensitivity” is a effort to exert influence and extract benefit, and as long as it works, they will continue this charade. Enough already.

    I am a Norwegian, and the last time I looked, Vikings are always portrayed in a “demeaning and humiliating” way. Just look at Ragnar. However, do you EVER hear Norwegian’s complaining? No, because most are too busy leading productive lives to worry about this nonsense.

    Enough already. Really, this is 3rd grade politically correct nonsense. We have soaring deficits and an economy on the verge of collapse, oil spewing into the gulf, wars with no end in sight, and a pivotal constitutional struggle going on in this country. Yet, we continue with this hypersensitivity.

    It is time to face reality. These statues are disrespectful ONLY when someone sees a way to make money, to exert political influence, or both.

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