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Committee reaches fundraising goal for new Chief Bemidji statue

A bust and model of the new Chief Bemidji statue were temporarily displayed at Bemidji City Hall last spring. Enough money has now been raised to commission a bronze statue of Chief Bemidji to replace the current in Library Park. File

BEMIDJI – It’s happening.

After two and a half years of fundraising, enough money has been raised to begin work on a new Chief Bemidji statue for Library Park.

On Tuesday night, the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners approved the $25,000 development grant request from the Chief Bemidji Statue Project Committee, putting it over its $124,000 goal.

“I was so thrilled I just wanted to stand up and thank everybody,” said Sandy Kaul, co-chair of the committee who attended the meeting.

Kaul said the artist, Washington-based sculptor Gareth Curtiss, could begin work on the statue of Shaynowishkung by April 1. She said it will take about a year to complete.

The new bronze statue, which will stand at about 9 feet and 3 inches, will replace the current wood statue, which is seen by some as too cartoonish. It will go to the Beltrami County History Center, along with the first Chief Bemidji statue, Kaul said.

The ultimate destination for the new statue will be Library Park. But depending on the timing of planned improvements to the waterfront area, it might begin at a different public location before moving to the park, Kaul said.

“We have some really good ideas and plans for (the statue),” said Marcia Larson, the city’s parks and recreation director. “But we also don’t want to start construction all around it either.”

According to a park design concept on the city’s website, the statue will be located near where the current one stands, but on the east side of the trail closer to Lake Bemidji.

 “I believe Chief Bemidji deserves some justice,” said Tim Sumner, Beltrami County District 4 commissioner and a member of the Red Lake Nation during Tuesday’s meeting. “I like the picture that was provided in the packets, and I think we need to show some pride in Bemidji and show it’s not where we’ve been but where we want to go.”

Sumner said in a phone interview Wednesday that the new statue will be more “authentic” and better resemble Shaynowishkung, who was known as Chief Bemidji.

The Chief Bemidji committee has raised $50,000 in grants, $40,600 in monetary donations and $38,630 worth of in-kind donations for site work and printing. The three area tribes have donated to the project, Kaul said.

Funds will be used to build the statue and publish an educational brochure about Chief Bemidji. Extra money that was raised will be used for contingencies, Kaul said.

“It is really exciting,” Larson said. “There (were) a lot of really good people working on it so it’s nice to see that it’s at the point that it’s fully funded.”

Pioneer reporter Justin Glawe contributed to this story

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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