Boundary Markers Project
A Sculpture’s Controversy; A Community’s Answer
Beyond its popularity for public performances, Bronson Park has been the social and political heart of Kalamazoo for nearly two centuries. Incorporating an ancient Native American mound, from which Abraham Lincoln delivered his 1856 “Free Soil” speech, the park’s central Fountain of the Pioneers, depicts a stylized American Indian and Euro-American settler in tight proximity. Despite designer Iannelli’s intention to honor what he thought was the noble vanishing Indian, the recognized need to refurbish this Art Deco masterpiece generated a limited vocal and virtual campaign demanding the fountain’s removal, accusing Iannelli and the people of Kalamazoo of celebrating racism.
After a dozen years, a public “Inter-Governmental Conflict Resolution Committee” [City and County of Kalamazoo and the local Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Pottawatomi resolved to keep the fountain and established a Public Art and Education Sub-Committee under the leadership of a Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Council member, to prepare an “equally compelling and accurate” presentation for the park. Within a year, plans for a competing statue were abandoned and an inclusive Public Education Committee reconfigured to develop engaging methods to present an accurate, unbiased history of American Indian occupation of the region.
WiFi-enabled kiosks will be located in proximity to the fountain in Bronson Park. Four others will be located on public school and park lands at corners of the 1821-1829 Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish reservation where Kalamazoo now stands. Working with the NextExitHistory internet mapping application, the Pottawatomi will tell, in their own words and images, their story of Euro-American betrayal, resistance to removal, cultural re-engagement and community stewardship. Bronson Park is a National Register of Historic Places District, and NPS staff have encouraged development of a “Teaching History with Public Places” program.
Learn more about the history of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Pottawatomi
Fountain of the Pioneers is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places
Next Exit History is a free app for Apple or android devices; it connects users with history in the landscape all over the country.
Visit the Kalamazoo Public Library for more information about the fountain’s history.