Tag: indigenous people

Sculpture adds visibility to journey of Indigenous people; brings new conversations, reflection

Architect Chris Cornelius speaks during the Kaeyes Mamaceqtawuk Plaza and Otāēciah (crane) art sculpture dedication Monday as part of Lawrence University’s sixth annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day Celebration. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Chris Cornelius looks at the contemporary art sculpture that has become the centerpiece of the plaza outside Lawrence University’s Mudd Library, its shape pointing purposely northwest toward what is now the home of the Menominee Nation, and wonders what conversations it might spark.

“I would hope the Indigenous community here on campus would see it as a place to gather, to have as a physical symbol that they are being acknowledged, and to open those conversations up about how land was acquired and who was Indigenous to it and how do we begin to reconcile that with one another,” said Cornelius, the architect who created Otāēciah, the public sculpture now on permanent display on the renamed Kaeyes Mamaceqtawuk Plaza.

A member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and newly named chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of New Mexico, Cornelius joined with current LUNA (Lawrence University Native Americans) students, members of local tribal communities, families from the Appleton Area School District, and the Lawrence campus on Monday evening for a dedication of the sculpture and the renamed plaza.

It was the culmination of more than two years of work.

Installed in late summer, the sculpture is intended to be a permanent piece that further acknowledges and honors the Menominee and Ho-Chunk people, who are Indigenous to the land where Lawrence is situated. The dedication comes on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a day that a growing number of cities, states, K-12 school districts, and universities have declared a holiday.

The sculpture was funded by a gift from Robert ’64 and Patricia Anker.

The Boldt Co. provided welding and structural work during the installation, working in partnership with Cornelius as the Otāēciah sculpture took shape. It follows the 2019 installation of the temporary Project 562 mural on the outside wall of the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center, which also aimed to amplify the perspectives of Native American voices at Lawrence.

President Laurie A. Carter told visitors to Monday’s dedication that the sculpture is a visual reminder that Lawrence is and will be a welcoming place for all.

“Today is more than a dedication,” Carter said. “Today is also Indigenous Peoples’ Day, on which we both honor our local Indigenous communities, including the Menominee and Ho-Chunk Nations and the surrounding Oneida and Mohican people, and envision a future that prioritizes new ways of making Indigeneity visible on our campus. There is a reason why we stand here between Seeley G. Mudd Library and the Wriston Art Galleries. This plaza is located at one of the busiest crossroads of our campus and is clearly visible from College Avenue, one of Appleton’s most important and traversed thoroughfares. You can’t drive by or walk across the center of campus without passing this plaza or seeing this sculpture. Today we make visible Lawrence’s Native American students, faculty, and staff, whose perspectives have historically not been visible enough here on our campus.”

Former Lawrence President Mark Burstein was an early advocate for the Otāēciah sculpture project. He reached out to the Ankers, avid supporters of Native artists, and found willing partners in making the project happen. The Ankers traveled from Carmel, Indiana, to attend Monday’s dedication.

“As we accumulated art over the decades, we became focused on Native art and artists,” Robert Anker said. “Pat chaired the Indian Market and Festival of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art (in Indianapolis) for many years and continues to serve as a member of the museum’s board of directors. Through the years we have built deep and continuing friendships with many Native artists. Mark became aware of these facts simply because he is Mark, thus making both the ask and the answer easy.”

“Our voices aren’t often centered in that way”

Lawrence student Taneya Garcia, president of LUNA, tells the crowd gathered for the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Celebration that the Otāēciah sculpture and all it represents “warms my heart.” (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Lawrence connected with Cornelius at the suggestion of Beth Zinsli ’02, assistant professor of art history and curator of the Wriston Art Center Galleries. She had seen Cornelius’ work at a 2018 art show at Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Art.

“His piece in that show just bowled me over,” she said. “I started looking into his work a bit more and learned that he is an acclaimed architect and that he grew up closer to campus, in Oneida. …  I was really committed to working with him in some way.”

Much of Cornelius’ work has focused on the architectural translation of culture; in particular, American Indian culture. He is the founding principal of studio:indigenous, a design and consulting firm serving American Indian clients. He holds a master of architecture degree from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s degree in architectural studies from UW-Milwaukee. 

Once Cornelius was on board, he set out to bring the voices of Native students at Lawrence into the planning for the sculpture. He wanted to hear about their experiences and sought their insights as he began to map out what the piece would look like, what symbols it would include, and what messages it might send.

“It was very important to him that he heard their voices,” said Brigetta Miller ’89, an associate professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory who has served as the faculty advisor to LUNA, a student organization, since its inception in 2008. “I love that. Our voices aren’t often centered in that way.”

Miller is a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee (Mohican) Nation and is a descendant of the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin.

Taneya Garcia, a senior majoring in both anthropology and ethnic studies, is president of LUNA. A member of the Santa Ana and Acoma Pueblo of New Mexico, she said she has been thrilled to see the amplification of Native voices at Lawrence since she arrived on campus three years ago, starting with the initial adoption of a land acknowledgement in 2018 and followed by the Indiginize Education land project mural and convocation with Project 562 in 2019.

Now the Otāēciah sculpture brings more permanence to that commitment, Garcia said. Native students know their voices were part of its creation, and Native students today and in the future can see themselves represented in the art.

“Once they see themselves, they kind of have that reinforcement that we’re here, and we’re always going to be here,” Garcia said.

“It opens up and you can look at the sky”

Otāēciah is a contemporary art sculpture now on permanent display on the renamed Kaeyes Mamaceqtawuk Plaza on the Lawrence University campus. (Photo by Liz Boutelle)

Cornelius said the message from the students meshed with his own vision for the project—to pay respect to the Menominee people and their traditions.

The sculpture, made of weathering steel that is intentional in its rust, is not intended to look like anything specific, Cornelius said. But its name, Otāēciah, means “crane” in Menominee. Finding inspiration in animals and nature is reflective of the culture, he said. And the Indigenous patterns that are part of the sculpture speak to the arts and crafts of the Menominee people.

“You will see that the skin of this piece is intended to reflect some of that, some of the original reflections of nature,” Cornelius said.

The rust, Cornelius said, provides a protective coding and will change in tone over time.

Visitors to the sculpture are encouraged to walk inside, admire the design, and look through its openings.

“It opens up and you can look at the sky,” Cornelius said. “You can get in the middle of it, get inside it. It’s not just a sculpture. It’s intended to be a space. And to have that experiential quality to it.”

A Boldt Co. crew spent several weeks in August bringing Cornelius’ vision to life, assembling and welding the intricate pieces.

“A piece like this takes a significant amount of work,” Cornelius said during the installation. “For me as the designer, I have one person on staff. But how it’s being constructed is really being supported by Boldt. They’ve been excellent partners in this endeavor. They are constructing it; we’ve used their structural engineers. They’ve made the process go super smooth.”

The finished product does what public art is supposed to do, Zinsli said. It speaks to place and history, and it invites reflection.

“In his practice overall, Chris has created this distinctive visual language that complicates the boundaries between the natural world and the built environment in ways I find really exciting,” Zinsli said. “In Otāēciah, Chris deftly integrated Menominee symbols to create this powerful, visually arresting work of public art. I particularly love the way the sculpture invites somewhat playful interactions—you can walk inside it—while also persistently reminding us on whose ancestral lands our campus has been built, through its iconography and purposeful orientation toward the present land of the Menominee Nation. This is precisely what good public art can do—become an integral and beautiful part of the campus landscape while also embodying the values our community holds in common.”

“I think it’s important to start that conversation”

Dennis Kenote, a Menominee elder, applauded Lawrence for its celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and its commitment to its land acknowledgement. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Monday’s dedication was one more chapter in what hopefully will be an ongoing conversation about indigeneity, Cornelius said. He applauded Lawrence—its history dates back 174 years, predating Wisconsin becoming a state—for its willingness to engage in such discussions and reflection.

“It’s important to understand the relationship that Indigenous people had originally to the land, for us to be able to have conversations about how we ended up where we are,” Cornelius said. “How did we end up where Lawrence University is here on what was Menominee land? I think it’s important to start that conversation, and for me it’s doing that through this piece. Through art and sculpture, we can begin to have those kinds of conversations about the university and the founding of the university. Lawrence was here before Wisconsin even became a state. But we should have conversations about who was here before it was even known as Wisconsin, before European contact. That’s the thing the piece itself is intended to do, to help spark those conversations.”

For Miller, these conversations are essential. She’s hopeful the sculpture and the Kaeyes Mamaceqtawuk Plaza, located in a busy cross-section of campus that draws much foot traffic, will spur the sort of “deep interdisciplinary reflection that’s necessary in order to understand the interconnectedness of Indigenous ways of knowing.”

Dennis Kenote, a Menominee Nation elder, recorded pronunciations of Kaeyes Mamaceqtawuk and Otāēciah. He shared his knowledge of Menominee history and customs at Monday’s dedication.

Miller said she hopes Lawrentians will actively practice the proper pronunciation and begin referring to both the sculpture and the plaza by their Menominee names.

“Our Native relatives have always placed high value on learning through the oral tradition,” Miller said. “The challenge of correctly pronouncing the word is good for our campus—it shatters stereotypes and shows the complexity and higher-level thinking required in our Indigenous languages.”

Monday’s celebration, which drew several hundred people, featured a pow wow demonstration by Str8 Across, an Oneida drum and dance group. Norbert Hill, an Oneida elder, told those gathered that this celebration needs to last beyond this one day.

“This monument reminds people that Indigenous Peoples’ Day is every day,” he said.

Miller called the permanence of the installation significant, saying it marks an important step in the continuation of Lawrence’s land acknowledgement.

“This is not something that’s just going to go away,” Miller said. “As Native people, we want to make it clear that we’re alive. We are here. We are present.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Signage on Kaeyes Mamaceqtawuk Plaza

Otāēciah (Crane), Chris T. Cornelius (Oneida) 

The form of Otāēciah references a crane, one of the five traditional Menominee clan symbols. The perforated and patinaed steel panels, modeled after woodland textile patterns, overlap like a bird’s feathers. Menominee beadwork designs, created with elements of geometric patterns, are prominently featured. The decorative shapes that crown the piece signify ceremonial regalia. The sculpture points directionally toward the present land of the Menominee Nation. The three inside posts supporting the sculpture represent LUNA’s motto: “We stand together – stronger together.”

Audio guide: Menominee elder Dennis Kenote provides pronunciation for Otāēciah and Kaeyes Mamaceqtawuk and history on the language.

Pronunciation Guide

Menominee orthography: Kāēyas mamāceqtawak 
International Phonetic Alphabet: /kajæs məmɑːʔt͡ʃɪtɑwək / 
Pronunciation guide: Ka-YES muh-MAA-chi-TA-wuk 
Translation: Ancient people that move 

Menominee Orthography: Otāēciah 
International Phonetic Alphabet: ɔtɑːʔt͡ʃijɑʰ 
Pronunciation guide: o-TAA-chee-ah 
Translation: Crane 

New grant grows, extends Lawrence partnership with College Horizons

Students participate in a classroom discussion during last year's College Horizons program at Lawrence.
College Horizons has been partnering with Lawrence University to help prepare indigenous students for the college journey.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University is strengthening its partnership with College Horizons, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for college-bound Native American students.

A newly awarded three-year, $750,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will extend the College Horizons Scholars Program through 2022.

College Horizons, the lead on the project, is a New Mexico-based college access organization that works with Native American students on college readiness. It aims to close the gap between Native and non-Native achievement in higher education. Only about one in 20 Native students will attend a four-year college or university, and once in college, only about a third of those students will earn a degree within six years, according to the organization.

For the past three years, Lawrence has hosted College Horizons’ pilot Scholars Program, a three-week summer academy for Native students in advance of their freshman year in college. Students with college destinations across the country gathered on the Lawrence campus to learn about transitioning to college and practice research and writing skills. It was funded by a $650,000 Mellon Foundation grant that expired at the end of 2019.

The new grant will allow the program to extend, expand and evolve. Instead of meeting only once for three weeks prior to their freshman year, the Native students will now be part of a Scholars Pathway that will continue through all four years of college. Beginning this summer, the participating students will meet annually for a one-week academy. The meet-ups prior to their freshman and sophomore years will be at Lawrence. Those before their junior and senior years will be at the University of Michigan.

“This model allows us to better meet student needs at each appropriate step in their academic journey and allows them to stay in frequent personal contact with their cohorts, which increases resilience,” Catherine G. Kodat, Lawrence’s provost and dean of faculty, said in the grant application.

The Scholars Program is one of three administered by College Horizons. Lawrence has also hosted Graduate Horizons, a four-day program offering graduate school admissions workshops. One of about 50 colleges that work with College Horizons, Lawrence forged its initial partnership shortly after the organization’s 1998 founding.

Kodat noted that among the lessons learned during the first three years of the program was that it was difficult for the participating students to dedicate three weeks of their summer to the program, and then the time lapse between their initial visit and the Graduate Horizons program was too great, exposing students to attrition risks.

The expanded and renamed Scholars Pathway Program offers more continuity, most notably consistent mentoring through the college years.

“College Horizons is excited for the three-year grant renewal with the Mellon Foundation and the continued partnership with Lawrence University,” said Mikaela Crank, director of the Scholars Program. “We are looking forward to our new cohorts of Scholars and implementing a more robust and contiguous four-year Scholars Pathway Program that will include annual in-person activities.

“Our goal is to better meet our students’ mentoring, academic, socio-emotional, pre-graduate advising and research needs. We are applying a holistic and Indigenous approach to support our Scholars success by helping them graduate from college and apply to graduate school.”

Lawrence will serve as the fiscal agent for the grant and will partner with the University of Michigan in hosting the program.

Last summer, 21 new high school graduates representing six Indigenous communities took part in the program at Lawrence.

“It is an honor and privilege to extend our fruitful partnership with College Horizons through this program,” President Mark Burstein said in a letter to the Mellon Foundation. “Our missions strongly align through increasing college access and attainment among historically underserved groups. The pilot program has raised our awareness of the particular challenges facing Native American students, and I trust the renewal will continue to increase our capacity to serve them better.”

Ed Berthiaume if director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Project 562 creator’s convocation, art installation looks to reshape the narrative of Native communities

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Brigetta Miller calls it a historic moment for Lawrence University, a big step forward in the understanding of Native communities and the need to embrace and value the knowledge, history and contributions of indigenous people.

When Matika Wilbur, creator and director of Project 562, arrives on campus on Friday, April 5 for a week-long artist-in-residency — including the creation of a contemporary mural celebrating area tribal communities — and an April 11 convocation address at Memorial Chapel, it will be significant.

Significant for Native students and alumni. Significant for the 11 federally recognized tribes in Wisconsin. And significant for the university.

“I see this spring convocation as history unfolding before our eyes since it’s the first Native American woman who has been chosen as a university convocation speaker since the opening of the institution in 1847,” said Miller, an associate professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music and a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee (Mohican) Nation.

“Given the fact that our campus is on sacred Menominee ancestral homelands, I believe our ancestors are truly smiling down on this event. It’s a very big deal for us to be visibly represented in this way.”

Stories to tell

Wilbur, a visual storyteller from the Swinomish and Tulalip peoples of coastal Washington, has been traveling the country as part of Project 562, using photography and art installations to connect with tribal communities and help redirect the narrative of their history, their present and their future. The 562 is a reference to the number of federally recognized tribes in the United States at the time the project launched in 2012.

Wilbur sold most of her belongings, loaded her cameras into an RV and set out to document lives in tribal communities across all 50 states. Connecting to college campuses along the way has been a big part of her journey.

“We are in a very critical time that requires educators, administrators and college communities to create a more inclusive environment for Native American students,” Wilbur says in her Project 562 plan. “By engaging in this social art project, students will have the opportunity to, a) organize, b) have their voices heard on campus, and c) elevate the consciousness and encourage the social paradigm shift to acknowledge the contemporary indigenous reality.”

That’s music to the ears of Miller, a 1989 Lawrence graduate who teaches ethnic studies courses in Native identity, history, and culture and works with Native American students on campus as a faculty advisor to the LUNA (Lawrence University Native Americans) student organization.

This community — on campus and beyond — needs to know that Native culture is alive, vibrant, intelligent, resilient, and moving forward, she said.

“I learned of her work a few years ago,” Miller said of Wilbur. “I saw her mission. I’ve been an educator for many years, and when I saw the beauty of what she was doing, substituting the historical distortions and fixed images of the past for the truth about our people, raising visibility for the historic erasure that has happened, sharing the many parts of our culture that often don’t make it into the history books, that inspired me.

“Her message is that we are resilient and we are strong and that we’re reclaiming our own narrative. She’s really aiming to share that part of our story, as opposed to one that popular American culture often believes is dead or invisible. As indigenous people, we are interrupting the settler narrative of the past, embracing our present and ensuring the future for our children. We are moving, we are shaking, we are scholars, we are artists — the sky is the limit for us.”

Wilbur recently teamed with Adrienne Keene, a member of the Cherokee Nation, to launch a new podcast, All My Relations, now live on iTunes, Spotify and Googleplay. It’s an extension of Project 562 in many ways, aimed at exploring relationships and issues important to Native people.

“I see her as a change agent,” Miller said. “Heads are turning.”

A reflection of who we are

At Lawrence, in the week leading up to the convocation address, Wilbur will work closely with Native students and allies to bring the outdoor mural to fruition. They’ll start with a workshop on photography and the important role of art in social justice, focused on how they can document the lives of indigenous people ethically and respectfully.

A group of students will then join Wilbur on visits to nearby reservation lands, where they’ll meet with tribal members, take photos, and participate in a seasonal longhouse ceremony. They’ll use the photos in the creation of a collage that will form the core of a mural to be installed using wheat paste on the outside north wall of the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center.

The mural, a non-permanent installation expected to remain visible for two to five years, will be unveiled following the 11:10 a.m. convocation on April 11.

“It means a lot to me that this convocation and art installation will show the beauty and forward-thinking of our culture,” Miller said. “It means more than one can imagine for our current Native students. It’ll be the first time we’ve had contemporary Native American artwork on the side of one of our buildings. Our indigenous students will see themselves reflected back for the first time ever.”

In her convocation address, Wilbur will discuss Project 562 and takeaways from her interactions with Lawrence students, the visits to area tribal lands and the creation of the mural.

Beth Zinsli, an assistant professor of art history who chaired this year’s Public Events Committee, said the invitation to Wilbur is part of a rethinking of convocation.

“In addition to our excitement about bringing an indigenous woman to campus for this honor, the Public Events Committee was interested in expanding what Lawrence’s convocation series could be — does a convo have to be a single, stand-alone lecture, or can its significance extend beyond the speaker’s visit and have a more lasting and visible impact?” she said. “I think Matika’s residency and the mural will be an excellent example of this.” 

The convocation will include a traditional Menominee flutist and an Oneida drum/dance group. There also will be an opening invocation spoken in the Menominee language by Dennis Kenote, chairman of the Menominee Nation Language and Culture Commission. That, too, is hopeful, a reflection of understanding and acceptance that hasn’t always been felt by Native communities on college campuses, Miller said.

“I hope this entire experience opens up the door to further meaningful conversations between cultures,” Miller said. “And I hope it attracts more Native students, faculty, and staff to our campus. I hope it raises visibility about the importance of the deeper cultural knowledge that indigenous people inherently bring to a college campus.

“I want Lawrence to be perceived as a welcoming place for Native students, families, and communities. We do welcome an indigenous presence here — students, faculty, local tribal members. Our doors are open to you. I want our people to know that.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Spring Convocation

What: Convocation featuring Matika Wilbur, creator and director of Project 562, Changing the Way We See Native America

When: 11:10 a.m. April 11; unveiling of mural on campus to follow.

Where: Lawrence Memorial Chapel

Cost: Free