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Skip Sandman talks about the spirit of the Anishinabe people while holding the eagle staff erected in the Civic Center plaza lawn Monday evening. Photo by Bob King / Duluth News Tribune

City of Duluth: Eagle staff will stay for now

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News Bemidji,Minnesota 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
City of Duluth: Eagle staff will stay for now
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

DULUTH -- The Anishinaabe staff planted at the Duluth Civic Center plaza will remain in place while city officials and the American Indian community discuss its future.


The staff came into public focus last month when it was replanted for a third time since it was put up in the fall of 2011. A story in the Duluth News Tribune about the staff and efforts to keep it planted prompted questions to City Hall about the legality of placing the staff on city and county property, said Daniel Fanning, the community relations officer in the mayor's office.

"It should have never been placed there," Fanning said. He said that after a few calls about the legality of the staff placement, city leaders decided it set a precedent against the general rule of nothing being placed on Civic Center grounds for an extended period of time.

Fanning said the city has reached out to the American Indian community since the June 25 story in the New Tribune. City workers won't take down the staff until a discussion occurs about what to do with it.

The staff was brought up often at a gathering at Leif Erikson Park on Monday evening. It was centered around the theme called "The Danger of a Single Story" and talked about cultural icons that tell an insulting story to native people. That's why the discussion took place at the park, in front of the Leif Erikson statue that includes a plaque calling him the "discoverer of America."

Ricky DeFoe, a member of the Duluth American Indian Commission, said the staff will remain until a respectful discussion ensues.

"We intend to keep it right where it's at," he said. If need be, "we will move it as a community."

DeFoe said the staff will likely serve as a wedge to get city leaders to talk to his community about pressing issues. He said he's tried to get a meeting with his commission and the City Council for the past two years.

"The staff has set the tone," DeFoe said.

He said the call to remove the staff has "colonialistic" overtones. He said the staff serves as a flag for the Anishinaabe people much like the others on the plaza.

"Why would that be offensive?" he said.

Some people have suggested the staff be placed on Spirit Mountain, a place clamoring for some native perspective, DeFoe said.

Fanning said the removal is about precedence when it comes to items allowed on the plaza. He said the staff was overlooked for the past year and a half until the story about it being pulled down appeared.

He also said the issue could serve as a way to improve relations between city leaders and the American Indian community.

The staff was put up in the fall of 2011 amid the Occupy Duluth encampment at the Civic Center.

On June 24, DeFoe and others replanted the staff and said it was the third time they'd had to do it. It had been taken out and tossed into nearby bushes.

According to the city, its workers have never removed the staff, out of respect, even though it's customary for workers to discard items that haven't been approved for permanent display on the Civic Center grounds, Fanning said.

The gathering at Leif Erikson Park eventually made its way to the plaza and respects were paid around the staff.

"It's up to the community to decide these things," DeFoe said afterward. "I think we concur that the staff should stay here. We can all do our part."

Gabriel Peltier said it isn't the Anishinaabe way to tell people to go away. He said the demand to make the staff go away "will not sit" with the spirit of his people.

He then looked directly at the pole and the spirit it evokes.

"We are not asking you to go away."

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