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Local artist Duane Goodwin's latest sculpture honors Indigenous people

Originally from the White Earth Nation, Goodwin has worked for over 30 years as an artist. He was honored in 2012 with a Community Spirit Award from the First Peoples Fund, which chooses its honorees for their commitment to sustaining the cultural values of Native American people.

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Duane Goodwin spent two months carving, grinding and sanding the limestone rocks to create this “Olga an went dean nimbi" sculpture in Grand Rapids, Minn.
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BEMIDJI — It was only fitting that Duane Goodwin’s most recent sculpture was dedicated on Indigenous People’s Day, Oct. 10. The Bemidji artist created the nine-ton stone sculpture at the Mississippi River Park in Grand Rapids, Minn., this summer.

It depicts a Native American woman holding a dish as an offering to the river. Carved into the square base are fish that are commonly found in the Mississippi.

With help from two of his nephews, Nate Yost and Patrick Warren, Goodwin spent two months carving, grinding and sanding the limestone rocks, which came from the Winona, Minn., area. He was contracted by the Grand Rapids Arts and Culture Commission. A crowd of about 200 was on hand for the dedication, and many of those in attendance watched Goodwin’s progress this past summer.

“I’m not the kind of person who wants to get mentioned,” Goodwin said this week. “I’m kind of a reserved person. But it was nice to see a big crowd of people, a lot of friends. There were a lot of people who had come by and watched the process. It was a grand affair. I was surprised to see so many people.”

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Duane Goodwin, center, was helped by two of his nephews, Patrick Warren, left, and Nate Yost, on this sculpture now located in Grand Rapids.
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Goodwin, 68, named the sculpture “Olga an went dean nimbi," which translated into English means "She is blessing the spirits in the water."

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"The fish represented are the food source for all living creatures and the Anishinaabe,” Goodwin wrote in his dedication statement. “The continuous flow of water is everlasting; the water continues to be a precious resource we can live not without. The sculpture will be a living symbol representing strength, gratitude and beauty. Her offering is a sacred blessing to the living spirits of the water and life."

Goodwin, whose studio is located at his home east of Bemidji, also created a stone sculpture four years ago in Morris, Minn. He named that piece “Nokoomis Nibii Equay,” which in English means "Grandmother Water Woman."

Goodwin drew the name of the piece from the significance of women as "givers of life," much like water is the giver of life in nature, and that grandmothers in particular are caretakers and play a significant role in Native American cultures.

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In 2018, Goodwin completed a stone sculpture named “Nokoomis Nibii Equay” in Morris, Minn.
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Originally from the White Earth Nation, Goodwin has worked for over 30 years as an artist. He was honored in 2012 with a Community Spirit Award from the First Peoples Fund, which chooses its honorees for their commitment to sustaining the cultural values of Native people.

In 2006, Goodwin was chosen as one of 14 carvers to represent at the Minnesota Rocks! International Stone Carving Symposium, an international event.

Goodwin retired as an art teacher in 2016 after 10 years at Bemidji High School and 20 years at Leech Lake Tribal College.

His studio burned to the ground in April 2017, but with help from the community and the Minnesota State Arts Board, he was able to rebuild it. He even managed to salvage the hammer he had used since the beginning of his career as an artist.

“Basically I had nothing when I started,” he told a Pioneer reporter that summer. “After years of gathering tools, one tool at a time, over the course of all those years, you gather up a lot … I’ll get started again with the same hammer after 40 years.”

Related Topics: ARTINDIGENOUS IMPACTS
Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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