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Bemidji City Council: Chief Bemidji statue on council agenda

The Bemidji City Council will consider a request Monday to support a project seeking a new, more realistic statue of Chief Bemidji for the Library Park area.

The council will hear from members of the Chief Bemidji statue committee during its regular council meeting at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

The hope is to commission a high-quality, life-size or larger realistic statue of Chief Bemidji, made of stone, bronze or other permanent material, and locate it in or near Library Park.

No city dollars have been requested for the project. The committee plans to apply for grants through the Region 2 Arts Council, George W. Neilson Foundation, First National Bank Foundation and Bemidji Area Arts Endowment. Even if granted, none of the grants requires a local match.

The project budget is $116,500.

The statue committee is a subcommittee of the Bemidji Parks and Trails Commission and is composed of 19 individuals, including area American Indians; descendants of Chief Bemidji, whose name was Shay-now-ish-kung; Bemidji Sculpture Walk representatives; Parks and Trails representatives; and a city councilor.

The committee has been meeting since November 2009. Since then, public meetings have been held within the Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth reservations and in Bemidji. According to the committee, public comment was taken on whether there was value in creating a new statue to honor Chief Bemidji; impressions and feelings about the current Chief Bemidji statute at Library Park; and historical information about Shay-now-ish-kung and the period in which he lived.

Among those taking part in the meetings were descendants of the current statue's carver, Eric Boe; descendants of Chief Bemidji; American Indians; artists; and other community members.

"All in attendance supported the commission of a new statue," the committee reported in a summary. "Many (expressed) that it is time to have a piece of fine art replace the current folk-art statue. A recurring sentiment expressed related to the healing benefits a new statue would have to the community."

The current statue would likely be relocated to the Bemidji County History Center for educational and exhibit purposes. It was a move reported to be supported by Boe's descendants.

Also on the agenda for Monday's meeting are consideration of revolving loan funds for Harmony Natural Foods Cooperative, hiring a consultant to update the city's parks and trails plan, and approval of personnel policy changes.