Article updated at 9:49 and 9:54 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29:
The remaining panel of the University of Kansas’ Common Work of Art, “Native Hosts,” has been stolen, less than a month after the other four panels were vandalized.
The work of art, by artist Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne, Arapaho), consists of five signs that name Native tribes who historically or currently inhabited the region now called Kansas. On Saturday, Sept. 4, four of the five signs were bent and knocked loose from their posts outside the museum; one fell to the ground. Museum staff removed the four from display to prevent further damage, but the fifth remained on display.
But on Wednesday, administrators learned that the remaining panel had been stolen.
“Unequivocally, we condemn this hurtful crime. The implications extend far beyond the felony theft that it is and reach deeply into Native communities that have worked for visibility” — themes that were reflected in the artwork, according to a statement Wednesday afternoon from the chancellor, Douglas Girod, provost, Barbara Bichelmeyer, and director of the Spencer Museum of Art, Saralyn Reece Hardy.
“Spencer staff and other university employees this week were preparing and reinforcing the site for installation of four new replacement panels that are part of the original work that had been vandalized earlier this semester,” the statement continued. “Despite this troubling turn of events, our commitment to reinstall the full work at a future date is unwavering. Public art in open spaces contributes to intellectual inquiry and enriches our community. We are equally committed to amplifying Indigenous and Native voices, which also enrich our experiences and environment.”
In a strong statement earlier this month, after the initial vandalism, Myltin Bighorn – Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribe, Tweesna Mills – Shoshone-Yakama-Umatilla Nations, and D’Arlyn Bell – Cherokee Nation, said that on behalf of KU’s First Nations Student Association, they wanted to express “in the strongest terms possible our deep offense and absolute indignation at this destruction of Native representation on KU campus.”
“This exhibit was intended to draw attention to issues of Native sovereignty, colonial dispossession and respect and honor for Indigenous peoples upon whose land KU’s campus occupies,” they wrote. “Native exhibits are incredible tools for creating conversations and drawing attention to our history and the value we bring to our areas of study and our interactions with the community at large.”
Late Wednesday, the group tweeted:
“FNSA leadership finally had a chance to meet and here is what we have to say:
1. We are pissed. We are angry.
2. This is a hate crime. Racism is loud and clear!
3. We have a meeting tomorrow with the provost because of the vandalism and we will demand answers and actions. But to be clear, you get paid to do this work, not us.
4. At first we led with respect but we are way beyond that now.
5. We will respond, post meeting, with a call to action for KU (our chancellor and provost) and the rest of the community.
6. Put your money where your mouth is, we have a KU Endowment account under our name.
7. We will show up everyday if we have to, this time it will not be a rally but a protest!
8. We are still fu*king here and we are not going anywhere.”
Kansas Rep. Christina Haswood, a Lawrence Democrat, reiterated her support for FNSA.
“At this point it’s an intentional hate crime to our Indigenous students and community,” she tweeted. “Whatever unwelcoming message they are trying to accomplish, guess what, WE ARE STILL HERE. I stand with @FNSAatKU and will support their path towards justice.”
Anyone with information about the crime(s) is asked to contact the KU Public Safety Office at 785-864-5900.
Those interested in updates can follow FNSA on Twitter, @FNSAatKU.
Protesters from the University of Kansas First Nations Student Association and the KU community stuck out the thunderstorm Thursday afternoon to share thoughts, songs and support during a gathering outside of the Spencer Museum of Art, where four panels of Indigenous art installation “Native Hosts” had been vandalized and one was stolen.
Leaders of the University of Kansas First Nations Student Association were reeling Friday night, nearly a week after multiple pieces of the KU Common Work of Art were vandalized — not only because of the destruction of the Native exhibit, but because they feel the situation hasn’t garnered enough attention from KU administrators.