Tecumseh statue dedicated at middle school
Fifth graders and their teachers gathered in front of Tecumseh Middle School (TMS) on Thursday, Nov. 1, for an official dedication of a statue depicting the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh, for whom the city was named. Dr. Emil Szkipala, a Sterling Heights artist, carved the trunk of a sycamore tree using several chain saws, completing the project on Tuesday, Oct. 16.
“I specifically invited the fifth graders to be a part of the dedication because they were the first class out here to observe a blessing for the artist at the start of the project,” said TMS Principal, Rick Hiliderley, who organized the project. He added that every student at TMS has had an opportunity to take part from collecting funds for a special hat day, raising money through a penny drive, or participating in Native American cultural education sessions led by Abel Cooper, Lah Nah Weh Native American Organization president on Oct. 12.
Members of the Leh Nah Weh Native American organization provided the blessing and Honor Drum then. Group member, Jose Ibarra, conducted a ritual during the Nov. 1 dedication, circling the statue and waving smoke toward it with an eagle feather.
“This is a spiritual thing and for guidance,” said Ibarra.
“This is a one of a kind statue; there’s really nothing like it around,” said Hilderley. He explained how the artist worked from a photograph of a bronze statue of Tecumseh that sits in southern Illinois, and in the picture, the warrior is holding a bundle of sticks. After consultation with Cooper regarding the significance of feathers in the Native culture, the artist was able to incorporate a fan of feathers in one hand, and a hatchet pipe that would have been used in peace ceremonies in the other.
“The idea of the sticks came about because of a quote Tecumseh was said to have made about how one stick will break easily, but a bundle of sticks is more difficult to break.” said Hilderley. “If everyone here would carry the story about how together we are strong, then this statue will have done its part in representing what Tecumseh the individual was all about, so we should remember these things.”
During the ceremony, the students and other onlookers saw what they believed may have been an eagle circling high overhead. Hilderley said during the blessing a few weeks ago, two eagles had been seen flying overhead, giving the ceremony a special significance since the symbolism is sacred to the Native American people.
Wendy Pizana and Amy Snelling of First Federal Bank donated a check for $500 toward the project. Pizana said the idea was to have it be a matching check to help encourage the students during their penny raising campaign, but the bank is donating the $500 regardless of that total.
“We wanted to do something to help the kids get involved as a collaboration,” said Pizana. “The other point is this represents the heritage of Tecumseh, and we thank Mr. Hilderley for organizing this effort toward that heritage.”
Hilderley had previously contacted the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Sault Saint Marie and the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Okalahoma in order to ensure things were done in a respectful way.
“I respect the fact that you went the extra mile to respect the tribes and make sure this was acceptable,” Tecumseh School Board member Jimmie Rice told Hilderley prior to the ceremony.
Also present was Art Robertson, a member of Dream-keepers of Turtle Island in Monroe, who said he had a lot of respect for the project. Stephen Kring, who was with him, said, “I went to school here 40 years ago. I’m here because I think this is a long time overdue.”
Hilderley said approximately $2,500 has been invested in the project with the artist receiving $1,800 and some food and lodging accommodation while here, and added that the Leh Nah Weh organization will receive an honorarium of $250 as an appreciation for their involvement. He has also applied for some grant funding and approached Native American tribes in the state, asking if they would like to be involved. The Saginaw Chippewa tribe donated $1,000.
“The main thing was we wanted this to be done in a good way, and it has been,” said Hilderley. “We tried to be careful and to be inclusive in getting information and help and everyone has been supportive and respectful, and we believe this is something to be proud of.”