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Chief Buffalo Memorial Mural painting kicks off

Beginning in September, people walking through the maze of ramps and stairways connecting Gichi-Ode’ Akiing Park to the Lakewalk may have noticed a fresh coat of colored paint lining the walkways. Artists and volunteers will be on site over the next few weeks working to complete a series of murals dedicated to the legacy of Chief Buffalo in our region as well as celebrating the contemporary livelihoods of Indigenous people in Duluth.

The murals are set for completion by the beginning of October, but a special event celebrating the artwork and its meaning to the community will be held in Gichi-Ode’ Akiing park on Sunday, September 19, from 12PM in the afternoon until late evening. There will be a feast as well as opportunities to participate in painting. The event is hosted by AIM Twin Ports Support Group in partnership with members of the Duluth Indigenous Commission.

The artwork being installed is a continuation of the murals started back in the Fall of 2019, when the artists and community came together to recreate a pictograph that Chief Buffalo used (among others) on his journey to meet the President of the United States in 1854. The 2019 project also involved a community painting session which resulted in a mural reflecting on Ojibwe folklore and the aquatic life of our region. New artwork includes maps of regional treaty territories, references to Chief Buffalo’s travels, Ojibwe florals by Michelle Defoe, and murals depicting contemporary Indigenous people engaging with the land (based on photos taken by Ivy Vainio).

Over the course of the past two years, artist Moira Villiard alongside partners in the project have been working to get approval at the city level to paint the rest of the walls, and approval finally came towards the end of this summer.

“We’re really happy to finally be able to get paint on the walls,” said Villiard, lead artist and project coordinator. “In the future, we will be approaching the city to propose historical plaques and markers, and potentially proposing some visions for reintroducing indigenous plant life to the park. From the beginning I’ve wanted this project to be an immersive experience for the community, one that serves both aesthetic and educational purposes and fills a gap in people’s knowledge of how Duluth actually became the city we live in.”

HISTORY: Chief Buffalo’s famous journey to Washington D.C. took place as a response to what is known as the Sandy Lake Tragedy, an strategic effort by leadership in Minnesota territory to bring harm to Ojibwe communities through a Removal Order. The Order directly resulted in the deaths of over 300 Ojibwe people.

Chief Buffalo traveled in his old age with a small team by canoe and train to Washington D.C. to request that Removal Order be rescinded, to rally support, and to implement the Treaty of 1854, which resulted in the creation of multiple reservations, assured tribal rights to hunting and fishing, and essentially established the grounds for Duluth and other cities in the region to exist on what would become ceded territories. Duluth may not have existed had this journey not taken place, and so it’s a story that’s relevant to people from all backgrounds in our community.

“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).

Collaborators: This project is a collaboration between project manager and artist Moira Villiard alongside lead artists Michelle Defoe, Awanagiizhik Bruce, and Sylvia Houle, the Duluth Indigenous Commission, Zeitgeist Center for Arts, AIM Twin Ports Support Group, and descendents of Chief Buffalo, with sponsorship and funding by the American Indian Community Housing Organization (through Bush Foundation and Arts Midwest), the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council (through legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund), a Creative Support for Individuals Grant through the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, and the IOBY Artists Lead program


12:00 pm meet the artists working on the Chief Buffalo Mural and hand drum contest.

1:00 pm grand entry.

3:00 pm giveaway and honor dance for Chief Buffalo the buffalo descendents.

4:00 pm feast and hand drum contest youth and adult category

6:00 pm grand entry

Sugar Bush host drum. Arena Director Jaimie Petite. Head Dancers Skyler Stillday & Creedence Diver. Community mural painting session throughout, as directed by volunteers.

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