Michigan residents split over controversial fountain

Associated Press

Kalamazoo — Officials in southwest Michigan are considering how to handle a controversial fountain that some say celebrates white supremacy.

The Fountain of the Pioneers in Kalamazoo features a European settler with a weapon in his hand towering over a Native American. Some residents said the piece is racist, while others argue that it’s a work of art that can teach people about history.

The Kalamazoo City Commission saw a presentation from city staff Monday about the Bronson Park fountain’s history.

The statue and fountain was created by sculptor and designer Alfonso Iannelli. The Fountain of the Pioneers complex was finished in 1940. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

Tim Samuelson is an Iannelli biographer and caretaker of his archive. Samuelson said the Native American figure is meant to be respected as it’s firmly opposing the pioneer.

About 50 residents, indigenous people and historic preservationists also gave their opinions on the monument at the meeting.

Some residents at the meeting suggested relocating the piece to a museum would allow for more educational context. Others said the fountain has inherent cultural value and is an illuminating piece of 20th-century art.

Removing the fountain won’t erase the history of violence in westward expansion, said Kalamazoo Township Trustee Jen Strebs.

Monuments serve as a reminder of the past, for better or worse, said Josh Koenig, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission.

The City Commission didn’t have a vote scheduled on the issue and will revisit the topic in 90 days.

A $2.8 million plan to restore the weathered statute and improve Bronson Park was approved in 2016. $2.1 million has been raised for the project so far, but fundraising efforts have stalled because of the fountain debate.