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Eagle sculpture defaced prior to dedication
4 November 2006

BISMARCK (UTN) - Even before the city of Bismarck and United Tribes Technical College could unveil their latest public art collaboration, vandals defaced the new sculpture in a city park here.

      UTTC Art-Art Marketing students had labored long hours over the summer to create a 12 foot tall sculpture called "Reflections." It depicts a larger-than-life eagle with its wings enfolding a steel globe that represents "Mother Earth."

Jeremy Joe Pettigrew, Mike Francis Gopher Jr., and Josey Denise Redday
Three students from the United Tribes Art-Art Marketing Program refused to let vandalism ruin the dedication program for "Reflections," their sculpture of an eagle enfolding its wings around "Mother Earth." From left, Jeremy Joe Pettigrew, Mike Francis Gopher Jr., and Josey Denise Redday created the sculpture behind them. United Tribes News photo.

      One day before a planned dedication program, the six-foot diameter stainless steel gazing ball was found loosened from its concrete foundation. Upon it was written a racial slur followed by an obscenity: "I didn't get my check this month. How about You? Mother _ _ _ _er!"

      "I was pretty stunned," said Jeremy Joe Pettigrew (Oglala Lakota), Wounded Knee, SD, one of the artists. "Didn't that die out in the 50s? Why are people still being racist towards American Indians?"

      "It just makes me so mad I don't know what to say," said Josie Denise Redday (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate), Bismarck. "They didn't see all the work we put into this. It's supposed to be something for everyone to enjoy."

      City workers removed the writing, which looked like it had been done with a magic marker, and the dedication program was held as scheduled on November 3.

Foreground, Mike Francis Gopher Jr. gestures to fellow artist Jeremy Joe Pettigrew about their sculpture, "Reflections," prior to the start of a dedication program November 3 in Bismarck, ND. United Tribes News photo.

      "I don't really feel like celebrating anything right now," said Wayne Pruse, UTTC Art-Art Marketing program director, during the program. "We're supposed to be here to honor the students and their accomplishment. But with this, the prejudice takes over. I probably had my head in the sand, thinking we were making some progress in this community. But, no. People will do this. They always do."

      The sculpture was commissioned by the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District and located along a popular walking path near the Missouri River. It was the third of six public sculpture projects that the district and UTTC students have planned for the area.

      During the program, Redday described what the "Reflections" sculpture stands for: "The majestic spirit eagle engulfs the globe with its powerful wings. Courageous eagles are seen as spiritual messengers. They carry prayers from the earth world to the spirit world."

      Redday, Pettigrew, and another student, Mike Francis Gopher Jr. (Blackfeet), Chugiak, AK, recovered their poise in front of the audience of 50 and described with good humor their work over the hot summer, battling mosquitoes, and pushing the project to completion.

      "Despite the vandalism, this work remains as a valid symbol of cultural sharing and unity," said David M. Gipp, UTTC president. "One of our goals for being involved with the parks district in constructing these eagle sculptures is to reach out to the community and change attitudes."

      Mark Zimmerman, President of the Bismarck Board of Park Commissioners, expressed support for the students and their work.

      "It was nice to see that the vandal did not destroy the spirit of the artists," said Deb Ness, Bismarck Chief of Police, who attended the dedication. "Their presentations were so delightful and their passion for their work showed through like sunshine on a cloudy day. It was quite evident that they were not going to allow this destructive behavior take away from the true meaning of the sculpture."

      Ness said a police report will be filed and an investigation conducted.

      "No matter the walk of life, no matter the creed, no matter the color, we are all together," said Gipp. "American Indians are a vital part of the Bismarck-Mandan community. We're not going anywhere; we're here to stay."

      At the end of the program a teacher from the college said a prayer in Lakota and a traditional honor song was sung as 60 well-wishers shook hands, hugged, and congratulated the student artists.


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