LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings By Barbara La Valleur — Side Trip To Bemidji

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As a kid, I remember long drives to California. We never deviated from the planned route.

Sometimes, our plan took us west to Washington, then south to Lakewood and Spring Valley, Calif., where our relatives lived. Once we went south to Texas to visit Mother’s relatives and then west along the old wooden highway that was featured in Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.” Other times, we did a diagonal almost straight line on the map from Minnesota to California. We never stopped for side trips.

Last week, for the 11th time, I drove with friend Kathy Johnsen from Ventura, Calif., north on 35W and then to Minnesota 53 to International Falls. Kathy and I had both attended a Jon Romer-led Native American flute week a few years ago.

I was one of 11 women and one man participating in a program for Individual Artist Week on remote Mallard Island on northern Minnesota’s Rainy Lake. It’s owned by the Oberholzer Foundation and is located within view of the Canadian border.

But it was the side trip back that topped off an extraordinary and spirit-filled week.

As chair of Public Art Edina for the past three years, I’ve met many sculpture artists and seen dozens of their works. Obviously, I have a keen interest in arts and sculptures. And it was that passion that had me deviate from the typical “quickest way home.”

So we drove back via U.S. Highway 71 to Bemidji, then Minnesota 371 to Brainerd and U.S. 169 back to the Cities. It’s hard to believe I’d never been to that part of our state before!

My goal was to see and photograph the towering bronze sculpture, Shaynowishkung, (He Who Rattles), Chief Bemidji, on the shores of Lake Bemidji. The sculpture is located in the park area near Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

In the planning for many years, I had hoped to be at the installation of the sculpture. A dear friend, Kathryn (Jody) Beaulieu, a member of the Red Lake Ojibwe Tribe, was involved in securing the sculpture. In addition, my Native American flute teacher, Jon Romer of Cass Lake, Minn., as well as his teacher, Windy Downwind, played at the dedication. I was disappointed not to attend.

Jody worked for many years at the Red Lake tribal library and served as tribal secretary before receiving her master’s degree in Tribal Administration and Tribal Governance at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.  Over the past year, she had shared her excitement about the sculpture project, and I was anxious to see it. Alas, the stars did not align for us to meet because she was out of town.

Still, it was worth the trip to see Chief Bemidji, to be sure. An added bonus was an impromptu picnic with Jon Romer in the park near the sculpture.

Bemidji has a wonderful improvement project under way near Chief Bemidji and next to the Information Center with new walkways, parking lot and sculptures. It looks like it could be completed by fall and will be a welcome addition for visitors wanting to visit the popular sculpture.

I invite you to read the text in the four photos of the plaques to learn the history of Shaynowishkung, honorable elder, expert orator and noted leader as well as the Native American’s plight during the 1800s and 1900s. He is truly one of Minnesota’s great historical figures.



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