Kalamazoo City officials say they want to remove a controversial fountain from Bronson Park. That’s a victory for activists who say the “Fountain of the Pioneers” depicts Native-Americans in a way that’s racist and demeaning. Kalamazoo City commissioners will consider the recommendation on Monday, March 5.
In a news release, City Manager Jim Ritsema says what he calls “artistically significant” parts of the fountain would be put into storage until a suitable location for them is found. The fountain designed by noted architect Alfonso Ianelli was built in 1940. One bas relief panel shows a Native-American figure kneeling before a European. Critics say that's racist.
The Kalamazoo Gazette quoted Ianelli saying of the fountain's design, "Regarding the meaning of the Fountain of the pioneers, the scheme of the fountain conveys the advance of the pioneers and the generations that follow, showing the movement westward, culminating in the tower symbol of the pioneer ... while the Indian is shown in posture of noble resistance, yet being absorbed as the white man advances."
Earlier proposals to remove the fountain have drawn opposition from historic preservation groups. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The city is working on a $2.8 million plan to renovate Bronson Park. That had included restoring the fountain but adding a new feature to the park highlighting the history and contributions to the region of the Potawatomi, who were living in the area when European settlers arrived.
Potawatomi leaders have said that the fountain's depiction of Native-Americans is problematic. But they have not insisted that it be removed. They supported the plan to add the new monument putting the tribe's history into perspective.