MUSKEGON, Mich. – A sculpture planned for the entrance of a Native American burial site was relocated after a local tribe said it would disturb sacred ground.
The granite obelisk, titled “All My Relations,” weighs 12,000 pounds and stands 16 feet tall. The work, crafted by Anishinaabe artist Jason Quigno, was supposed to rest at the Old Indian Cemetery in downtown Muskegon.
That plan was scrapped recently after the cemetery’s caretaker and the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians raised concerns about the location.
Placing a statue in the cemetery would ruin its integrity, said Joseph Genia, an elder of the Muskegon Native American community who has watched over the cemetery for more than 30 years.
“This is our indigenous land; our relatives are here,” Genia said. “It's more than a cemetery that you come to once a year and look at a statue."
Quigno’s sculpture and its location were planned by Community Foundation for Muskegon County, the city of Muskegon and other partners. The project had the approval of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, according a release from the Community Foundation about the sculpture.
The city had already laid down cement when the two groups came forward with complaints. Genia described the cemetery, located on Morris Avenue, as a “power place,” one which has dwindled down to a half-acre over the years.
“This piece of earth holding their relatives is a spirit place,” he said. “We’re down to a half-acre. And now we’ve even got a big piece of cement coming onto our last half-acre.
The cemetery was used by the Ottawa people as early as the 1750s and was deeded to the city of Muskegon in 1926, according to the Community Foundation.
Immediately upon hearing objections, the placement of the sculpture was canceled and discussions about a path forward for the artwork and the cemetery ensued, the release said.
Genia said city officials are going to remove the cement and restore the soil at the cemetery. The new proposed location for “All My Relations” is at the traffic circle between Terrace Street and Viridian Drive, according to Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson.
“As a race of Ottawa people, the art people are trying to do something for us to bring attention that we’re still here,” he said.
The piece, which boasts seven connected circles on each side of the obelisk, was never meant to cause conflict, Quigno said.
“Them seven circles represent the seven grandfather teachings. There's love, respect, honesty, bravery, truth, humility and wisdom,” he said. “The sculpture was supposed to be about honoring not only our ancestors – it was to honor…us Anishinaabe in this time and into the future.”