Transcript: Perspectives on Father Hennepin Discovering the Falls of St. Anthony

Perspectives on Father Hennepin Discovering the Falls of St. Anthony


Syd Beane, Flandreau Santee Sioux, Educator and Community Organizer: St. Anthony Falls has great meaning to my family. My Bdewakanton ancestors actually brought Father Hennepin to the falls, not as a hostage, but as actually a guest of the family in this area, and as somebody who symbolized a sense of sacredness that all of us symbolize. But the falls itself being one of the most sacred places of the Dakota people.

Annette Atkins, PhD, Historian: That’s a really interesting painting to me. The artist had no way of knowing what any of that looked like. So what we’re really seeing is the story that he imagines to have been the case. And in that way it’s a really interesting picture of 1905.

James Nottage, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art:Of course, that history of the falls and the driving of power for manufacturers goes way beyond the spiritual meaning of it for Native people so that the painting is a snapshot manufactured in a later time that just gives you the ideas of the creators of the Capitol building and the artist who responded to them.

Jan Klein, Settler Descendant: To me, he was trying to say in the Father Hennepin picture that he was blessing and honoring the falls. The economy of Minneapolis was based on the falls so there’s a huge story that we can follow with that. 

Mark White, PhD, Director, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art: Hennepin is, in this case, sort of rebaptizing this space. He is claiming it for church and state, in many ways by discovering it, but by also rechristening it St. Anthony. So, in that respect, he is kind of laying claim to it for what he probably would have hoped would have been a future French state. Didn’t quite work out that way, but nevertheless, I think the colonial aspirations are still the same.

Erika Doss, PhD, Professor, University of Notre Dame: There’s this assumption of white pioneers, white missionaries or European missionaries, discovering, which is a misnomer. And it’s also sort of a discrediting of Native presence and also Native naming and Native occupation of space.

Gwen Westerman, PhD, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Professor, Minnesota State University-Mankato: Where do you begin? Do you begin with Father Hennepin’s exaggerated account of his capture by the Dakota? Do we begin with the artist’s interpretation of the event? His lack of familiarity with Dakota custom, tradition and culture which results in him painting a bare-breasted woman which is not how Dakota women would have dressed at that time?

Emily Wilson, Assistant Curator, C.M. Russell Museum: If you wanted to paint nudes at the time you either had to make them Arab or Native or Greek or something. You couldn’t have these white women just being all nude because that would be a little bit too close to home and a little gaudy and just inappropriate. So you had to give this a distance.

Erika Doss: The painting has a missionary in the middle holding up a cross and then it’s got that sort of typical depiction of Natives, of looking up in awe and they’re all lower, sort of on the ground. Quite a few of the Natives don’t have much clothes on. So there is the sense, absolutely, of a creating opposition between white folks wear clothes and Natives don’t and it sets up all sorts of stereotypes.

Anton Treuer, PhD, Ojibwe, Professor, Bemidji State University: Remember, too, that some of these paintings, like Father Hennepin, which are sitting, you know, in the gilded hall where governors make their speeches and tribal leaders come for bill signings and things like that, that it's not just a place you can choose not to go to if you do business with the state of Minnesota. So what we’re doing is we are asking tribal leaders to swallow a spoonful of racism every time they do politics with the State of Minnesota. And then people are scratching their heads and saying, "Why are some Native people so uncomfortable doing politics with the State of Minnesota?"

Rep. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Democrat - St. Louis Park: It’s problematic when we have those images without telling the additional narrative of the people who were already here. I think it makes folks feel better about the history of Minnesota, and what happened when you romanticize it and sort of gloss it over and put in this beautiful artwork that somehow we don’t have to deal with the displacement of Indian people, frankly the disparities that we continue to deal with every day now. And puts just a little bit of distance to say, "Oh, well, that happened then and wasn’t that nice and who wants pie?"

Rep. Dean Urdahl, Republic - Grove City:That painting evokes a lot of negative feelings about the exploration era of that time and, to some extent, the role of the Catholic Church in Minnesota exploration. But, again, that’s, I think, why it’s important in terms of educating and explaining to people the role that exploration played in Minnesota history and to the Dakota people, and the role of the Catholic Church.