Bronson Park Plan Includes a Focus on Native History

Mar 7, 2016

The Fountain of the Pioneers at Bronson Park
Credit WMUK

Native American history plays a central role in a new master plan for Kalamazoo’s Bronson Park, which the Kalamazoo City Commission approved last night. It calls for a detailed virtual tour that listeners could access on mobile devices, as well as a marker. The city will also place markers around Kalamazoo at the four corners of a reservation that territorial governor Lewis Cass rescinded in 1829.

Historical expert David Brose says the northeast corner lies across from Riverview Cemetery where the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail goes north; the northwest corner is on the side of the King-Westwood Elementary School, the Southeast corner is in front of Milwood Elementary and the Southwest corner is off of Parkview Street.

The move to make the park a center of native history grew out of concerns about the park’s Fountain of the Pioneers, which depicts a Native person in a way that many find problematic. Brose belongs to a committee that’s studied the best way to proceed with the historic but controversial fountain, which needs repairs.

Brose says sculptor Alfonso Iannelli was “sympathetic” to Native people and didn’t intend to demean them. But he adds that Iannelli worked in ignorance on some points. He mistakenly believed that Native people had left Southwest Michigan.

“He even went out west to see ‘real Indians,’ not realizing that there were three native bands within 20 miles of Kalamazoo at the time he built his sculpture,” Brose says.

Brose says it’s a misconception many people still hold.

“Even in the Eastern United States there are scores and scores of Native reservations and Native communities that survive. They’re not all out in Wyoming and they’re not all out in South Dakota,” he says.

City parks director Sean Fletcher says he expects construction on the Bronson Park master plan to begin in 2017.