Highway 23 bridge at St. Louis River renamed to honor American Indian veterans
American Indians who have served in every American war received overdue recognition Saturday from the city of Duluth and the state of Minnesota. A dedication ceremony took place Saturday morning on Biauswah Bridge, which spans the St. Louis River...
American Indians who have served in every American war received overdue recognition Saturday from the city of Duluth and the state of Minnesota.
A dedication ceremony took place Saturday morning on Biauswah Bridge, which spans the St. Louis River on Minnesota Highway 23. The bridge was named for an Ojibwe chief this spring, and two small signs now stand at the ends of the bridge to let motorists know they are traveling over a bridge dedicated to the memory of American Indian war veterans.
"It took a long time to get to this point where we can say this bridge is in memory of all Native American veterans, past, present and future," said Rick Defoe, a member of the Fond du Lac band who helps preserve the tribe's cultural practices. "This is a historic time, and I am honored to be here at this intertribal ceremony."
The signs pay tribute, but they can't come close to telling the whole story. There is nothing written on them about the 11-year quest that was required to get the bridge dedicated, no background on the heroic Ojibwe chief who is the bridge's namesake and nothing about the United States not allowing American Indian soldiers to participate in traditional ceremonies associated with going off to war.
There just wasn't enough room.
"It is fitting and proper that we have done this on behalf of not only Indian veterans here, but Indian veterans everywhere," said Bob Powless, a member of Duluth's American Indian Commission. "Eleven years ago they started trying to get signs on this bridge commemorating the service of American Indian veterans, three years ago we brought this to the city of Duluth American Indian Commission and then we started to work on it."
In May of 2005, the Minnesota Senate voted 59-0 to allow the bridge to be renamed. After that it was just a matter of securing money, which had been promised to the Fond du Lac Reservation by former Mayor Herb Bergson.
After waiting almost three years,someone within the city's Finance Department realized the money had never come. Embarrassed at the length of time the city was taking, Finance "leaned" on several people and the signs were put up, Powless said.
It officially became the Biauswah Bridge sometime in April, but Saturday was the ceremonial opening of the bridge.
Shortly after 8 a.m., a color guard made up of American Indian veterans from Fond du Lac walked across the bridge to traditional drumbeats, after being purified through a process known as smudging -- the inhalation of sage smoke.
"To do the ceremonies, it takes a lot of courage," said Al Kitto, an American Indian veteran of the Korean War. "In 1887 after the Lakotas and Dakotas were defeated in the war with the United States, they took away all of the ceremonies of all the tribes, especially those of the warrior paths. You could no longer do that ceremony."
It wasn't until 1973 during the Vietnam War that the U.S. government passed a law again making it legal for American Indians to perform the Warrior Path Ceremony, Kitto said.
After the bridge was crossed and purified, the color guard and the rest of the group returned to the river's edge at Chambers Grove Park to complete the blessing with a pipe ceremony and a feast.
"This is for the memory of veterans that have gone before us and the ones that will go after us. Our people have faced many grave challenges in their lives, and we get together to help one another to heal the wounds of our past," dedication spectator Frank Goodwin said. "The creator, God, is looking on us right now and smiling."