2 groups of Oshkosh citizens urged the city to make changes in Menominee Park this week; no one left very happy

From Miles Maguire

For a moment on Wednesday afternoon, it looked like the presence of two direct descendants of Chief Oshkosh himself would not be enough to convince the Landmarks Commission to let the Menominee tribe determine what will be written on historical markers on its maritime monument should.

Mitchell Oshkosh and his son Mitchell Jr., fifth and sixth generation family members, were among the tribal representatives who attended the commission meeting. The commission also heard testimony from members of the City’s Diversity, Justice and Inclusion Committee, as well as from other Oshkosh residents and interested parties in Milwaukee and Madison.

At the end of a controversial discussion, the commission voted not to accept the proposed language of the tribe in the written form. But the board then unanimously passed a compromise resolution paving the way for the installation of four panels of Menominee-approved wording, while allowing further editing of the language on a fifth panel presented by the tribe.

This decision brings the city one step closer to a long and emotionally charged attempt to correct the inaccurate and offensive inscription currently affixed to the base of the Chief Oshkosh statue in Menominee Park.

Community questions clearwells

Another type of insult, an optical one, comes at the south end of the park, where the city plans to install two huge storage tanks as part of a mandatory modernization of the water filtration system.

About 50 local residents showed up at a community meeting on Wednesday evening to express their concerns, but the mood at the end of the meeting was resigned that the project is likely to proceed largely as planned.

One new piece of information about the waterworks is that the city must store at least 1.2 million gallons on site to backwash the filtration system, which must be done up to four times a day.

The city is proposing to store 800,000 gallons above this minimum in two above-ground tanks called clearwells. The additional storage at the facility is necessary to maintain operations in the event of emergencies such as fire, water pipe rupture, or unplanned outages, officials said.

The city’s engineering consultant on the project, Linda Mohr, acknowledged that there are alternatives to building the massive Clearwells, which protrude about 9 meters above street level, but they will all be more expensive.

“Everything can be postponed or done,” said Mohr. “There are only costs associated with this.”

Some of the options would also be extremely difficult to implement as they would require laying huge underground pipes or building over different types of support structures.

The alternative of leaving the Clearwells where they are, mostly underground, is hardly feasible, said Mohr. The construction process would be technically difficult and far more expensive.

Additionally, this approach would require constant maintenance and monitoring, and would require the Department of Natural Resources to approve some type of derogation it has never granted before.

Should changes be made to the project, then in the area of ​​aesthetics, to take into account the fact that the Clearwells will be located in a “culturally important place”, as Mohr described the sea quarters.

Less of a thorn in the side

Some community members suggested disrupting the Clearwells less, e.g.

But federal law added after 9/11 to counter possible terrorist attacks would prohibit such steps, Mohr said. Likewise, safety precautions would preclude certain types of landscaping, such as large trees or bushes, that would block line-of-sight monitoring of the tanks.

“We don’t want any hiding places and mischief,” said Mohr.

One idea that should be explored further would be to give the tank walls some sort of finish that allows for a large format mural. In order to improve the appearance of the tanks, it has also been proposed to change the shape of the tanks from cylindrical to rectangular.

Another option being investigated is to close Lake Shore Drive east of the filtration facility and convert that area into a park that buffers the view of the Clearwells from the water.

The Clearwells meeting attendees may be dissatisfied with the project, but they seemed to feel they were being heard and treated with respect.

One cannot say that in the course of the Landmarks meeting. Some of those who gave presentations later expressed anger and frustration at the response they received.

They said they were offended by the opposition of some commissioners to let the Menominee determine what should be written about their boss. Some members of the commissioners also shared the view that the tribe was not treated with respect.

“Really embarrassing”

“I’m really embarrassed about what happened here and that this has been going on for so long,” said Nikki Stoll Olthoff, a landmark commissioner who works as the assistant director of UW Oshkosh’s campus bookstore.

She said the process was “offensive” to the Menominee and that the group of three working on the plaques had already made some changes to try to soften the language. “Who do we think we can write better?” She asked.

For their part, some Landmarks members are upset about the development of the project. It started out as a Landmarks initiative, but after delays received its current impetus from the city’s diversity panel.

Bill Miller, the Common Council’s Landmarks Liaison Officer, said he believed “everyone is 90% right,” but he is concerned about the precedent the new plaques are setting for reinterpreting other monuments in the city would manage.

There is no consensus that the current language on the statue is completely wrong and deeply inappropriate. It states that Chief Oshkosh’s greatest achievement was to give the city his name and ignore his achievements as a statesman, environmentalist and tribal advocate. The suffering and loss suffered by his tribe when the Europeans arrived also remains unspoken.

To correct this situation, four plaques were placed around the statue. They would each provide biographical information about the chief, background information about his ancestral land, a description of Oshkosh’s work as a statesman and a description of his environmental responsibility.

Controversial language

The outstanding argument boils down to the language on a board to explain why the other four boards were put up. It suggests that the statue of chief Oshkosh depicts the chief inaccurately and the inscription minimizes his humanity. It also notes how much work remains to be done to recognize “the real contributions of indigenous peoples”.

The plaque contains words and phrases such as “white Euro-American stereotypes”, “settler colonialism” and “disturbing testament”. Some commissioners find these terms judgmental and uncomfortable.

Proponents say it is not the language that is exciting, but the story itself. However, they have agreed to meet with the Commission to try to find a mutually acceptable language by early next month.

“You cannot tone down the truth. You can’t tone down the real story, ”said Pershing Frechette, a member of the Menominee Tribal Legislature. “None of this is made up.”

“These four tablets are the truth,” said David Grignon, the tribe’s monument preservation officer. “The fifth is also the truth. Why don’t you accept the truth? ”He asked the Landmarks Commission.

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