Elders Under a Tree

I breeze past the tall statue of Paul and Babe first on my morning bike commute. Then past three elders sitting in the grass and side-by-side against a large oak tree. They face the lake that lies between them and the rising sun. The dew glistens off the grass. Morning in the north woods of Bemidji, Minnesota. The warmth of the sun juxtaposes with the cool morning air and slight breeze. It will soon be hot and windy. One of the men gives me a friendly wave and hello smile as I pedal by, as if there is a recognition or bond between us strangers. His smile warms me more than the morning sun.

They each wear a coat too heavy for a summer day. Each also has a small backpack near them. A bag of Fritos is passed between them. These are their possessions. I climb the little hill and then pass the statue of Shaynowishkung an Ojibwe man known locally as Chief Bemidji and recognized for his efforts to help the area’s first white settlers to survive. “Shaynowishkung…means ‘he who rattles,’ according to Ojibwe culture, a rattle is used to shake away negativity.”

Inscribed on one plaques next to Shaynowishkung is:
“So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass or their own dung.”
-infamous insult by Andrew Myrick, spokesman for the traders, August 15, 1862.

I pedal by and on to the rest of my day. Three elders under a tree.

*Text of plaques taken from Text of the four Chief Bemidji Statue Plaques (May 4, 2015). Bemidji Pioneer

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