Article updated at 12:10 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13:
After vandalism damaged four of its panels and the fifth was stolen, the “Native Hosts” Common Work of Art has been reinstalled at the Spencer Museum of Art on the University of Kansas campus.
The public is invited to an event to celebrate the artwork from noon to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14 in front of the museum, 1301 Mississippi St. Native faculty and students from KU and Haskell Indian Nations University will lead the event, according to a tweet from the Spencer Museum.
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 Sept. 4, four of the five signs were bent and knocked loose from their posts outside the Spencer Museum of Art in an act of vandalism, so staff removed them from display to prevent further damage. The fifth sign had remained on display until it was stolen sometime around Sept. 29, but it was returned relatively undamaged.
The vandalism and theft of the panels have been deeply upsetting for many Native students, faculty and staff in the KU and Haskell communities and beyond. Student leaders with KU’s First Nations Student Association organized a protest on Sept. 30 to call for action after the theft of the fifth panel.
“I want them to prosecute whoever did this to the fullest extent,” Tweesna Mills, Shoshone-Yakama-Umatilla Nations, co-chair of the FSNA, said during the protest. “We’re going to keep standing out in the rain and we’ll keep standing out here until we get the respect we deserve.”
Sarah Deer, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma and a University Distinguished Professor, said on Sept. 30 that people don’t make the connection that outdoor space is sacred space, but it is — “People put medicine down there. It’s not just any old lawn on campus. It’s a pretty important one. It was desecrated, and it should be treated as desecration of a sacred space.”
KU Public Safety Office Deputy Chief James Druen said the theft case was submitted to the Douglas County District Attorney’s office for charging consideration on Oct. 4. However, “On vandalism case we have no new updates and until somebody comes forward and identifies the individuals in the video, we are at a standstill,” he said via email Wednesday. “We have done everything we can at this point.”
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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.