Over a hundred people, both native and non-native, of all ages lent a hand in painting a mural and observed the blessing ceremony at the Gitchi-Ode’ Akiing park. Moira Villiard, a Duluth visual artist, collaborated with descendants of Chief Buffalo to organize a community mural painting to honor his memory.
The community painting started in August 2019 and is an ongoing project set to be finished in Summer 2021. The three finished walls were sponsored by the Duluth Indigenous Commission and Zeitgeist Center for the Arts.
“Duluth doesn’t really have a representation of indigenous people that’s by indigenous people and it's just having a space to be visible and to make the history accessible,” Villard told KBJR6.
The Gitchi-ode' Akiing park was formerly known as the Lake Place Park. The city-council passed the renaming of the park in December 2018. Gitchi-ode' Akiing is Anishinaabemowin for "A Grand Heart Place".
“A lot of people have been residents in Duluth their whole lives and their families have always lived here and they didn’t know the story of Chief Buffalo or they didn’t know just the history of the place or where we are at.”
Each volunteer painter was able to teach and learn the history of Chief Buffalo and the Anishinaabe traditions through visual art. It was an opportunity to use visual art as a medium for storytelling.
Chief Buffalo is remembered as a prominent figure that led the Anishinaabe to permanent resettlement in northern Minnesota. He was part of the Loon/Maang Clan, and was authorized by Lake Superior bands to represent them in the negotiation of territory with the U.S.
“There’s just a lot of overlap of different communities that happen in these spaces which makes it exciting because you meet new people and you learn new stories and new histories about the place,” Villiard told Fox 21. “A lot of people have been residents in Duluth their whole lives and their families have always lived here and they didn’t know the story of Chief Buffalo or they didn’t know just the history of the place or where we are at.”
When Chief Buffalo addressed the U.S. president, he presented a pictograph known as the “Symbolic Petition of the Chippewa Chiefs.” Images of the Catfish, Man-fish, Bear, and the three Martens and the Crane symbolizes the Lake Superior bands. The string attached to the hearts and eyes of each creature goes towards the Crane, which was considered one of the leading clans alongside the Loon Clan.
One lone string is drawn away from the Crane and goes off the page, pointing to the spokesperson carrying the document: Chief Buffalo. These strings symbolizes the authority the clans have given to Chief Buffalo to address the U.S. president on behalf of the Lake Superior bands.
While the mural is still an ongoing process, Villiard has had plenty of accomplishments with community murals. Different designs are painted on the walls of the stairway.
The mural started with the painting of aquatic life, designed in part by the community’s youth: vibrant and bold sturgeon, turtles and a fish-person reflect the Anishinaabe’s relationship to water. People of all ages and generations come together and interact with history and art truly creating a community painting.
The mural is accompanied with floral designs along an opposing wall created with stencils by artist Michelle Waabanangagaokwe Defoe, reincarnating the indigenous aesthetics and traditional designs.
"I had taken photos of old style Ojibwe floral patterns from the Minnesota Historical Society during our Makizin project,” Defoe said. “So I tried to bring some of these designs back to life instead of letting them sit in a museum. These are not my patterns but I did help put them into stencils and now they are alive again on the walls of Duluth along the lakewalk. So much love and heart in this project."
Each wall is roughly between 10 to 20 feet in length. Within in a day, over a hundred people or all ages and backgrounds came and painted three walls.
Red, yellow, black and white, colors of the Anishinaabe medicine wheel are painted on the top ledges of the walls in accordance with the four cardinal directions. The colors will be visible on Google maps once the area is updated on the service as a “proclamation to the sky that we are still here.”
In between the two walls is an image of the “Symbolic Petition of the Chippewa Chiefs” pictograph painted along the bridge of the stairway.
“Chief Buffalo's legacy takes the form of a story, but also manifests in the existence of Anishinaabe people all throughout Minnesota today and our enjoyment of rights to hunt, fish, and participate in traditional activities,” Villiard said.
The mural was originally planned to have been finished in the summer of 2020 but was rescheduled due to COVID-19. ∎
The three walls painted were the first were the first parts of the project to be completed. Villiard plans to finish the park walls in summer of 2021.
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The treaty was not a grant of rights to the Indians, but a grant of rights from them -- a reservation of those not granted." US v. Winans (1905)
Chief Buffalo, known as Bichiki and Gichi-waishke, was a revered figure in the history of Ojibwe people in the western Lake Superior region. The murals are an ongoing effort over the next year or so to convert a large maze of walls near the lake walk to an educational public art space. The murals are painted in collaboration with local community members, and focus on the journey of Chief Buffalo, a story inaccessible through both art and public space in Duluth; they will also feature contemporary imagery of Native people and our existence and connection to the land today.
Press Relating to Project
Sponsored by Zeitgeist Community
Duluth Indigenous Commission
The Buffalo family
Michelle Waabanangagaokwe Defoe
Volunteers who participated in the painting
Page by Suenary Philavanh