facebook app symbol  twitter  linkedin  instagram 1

Two defendants publicly apologized on Saturday, Dec. 10, for stealing a panel of an outdoor Native American art installation on the University of Kansas campus last year.

The piece, “Native Hosts,” Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne, Arapaho), consisted of five metal panels that include the names of the Kaw, Potawatomi, Ioway, Ne Me Ha Ha Ki, and Kickapoo tribes. The theft came just weeks after four panels in the installation were vandalized in an unrelated incident by two defendants in September 2021. Within a day, KUPD recovered and returned to the panel to the university’s Spencer Museum of Art.

John Wichlenski and Samuel McKnight, both 23, faced charges of theft of a value of at least $1,500 but less than $25,000 — level-9 felonies. The defendants agreed to diversions, and as a part of their diversion agreements, both participated in a restorative justice circle facilitated by Building Peace that included representatives from Spencer Museum and KU’s First Nations Student Association (FNSA)

Before the presentation, Spencer Museum of Art Director Saralyn Reece Hardy spoke about “Native Hosts,” noting their thought-provoking design, utilizing the names of tribes who once occupied Kansas before they were displaced.

Native American Student Success Coordinator Lori Hasselman opened the public apology at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, to a crowd gathered at the site of the theft in front of The Spencer Museum of Art.

“Restoration is tough,” Hasselman said in her opening statements, “It’s difficult, and it is not easy and it is also very beautiful at the same time. It is having a hard conversation; for some of us, it is confronting trauma.”

Wichlenski spoke first, followed by McKnight.

“To the artist Mr. Edgar Heap of Birds, the indigenous students of KU, Haskell University, the broader indigenous communities, the Spencer Art Museum, and anyone who felt the ripple effect from the situation,” Wichlenski said.

McKnight noted the restorative circle worked with the defendants to create a plan to further their education of indigenous culture.

“We are very appreciative of this group for providing such a great outlet and platform for a very productive and unifying conversation at the restorative circle. We are beyond grateful for the opportunity to continue working with this group to spread awareness of indigenous history and culture moving forward.”

Wichlenski and McKnight’s remarks were followed by a Kickapoo tobacco song sung by KU student Tweesna Rose Mills. As well, members of KU’s FNSA spoke about the healing process and encouraged the crowd to be inspired by the grace and strength of KU’s indigenous students who spearheaded the restoration process.

“I found my Indigenous identity here in KU... to me, to have instantaneous inclusivity in the Indigenous community is such a huge blessing,” D’Arlyn Bell (Cherokee Nation), a public administration and law & society scholar in KU’s School of Public Affairs and Administration, addressed the crowd. “Hopefully, you can see that one of the things we really want to communicate is that we are inclusive — we are inclusive to non-natives, even to people that hurt us deeply. We really want to be working toward reconciliation.”

KU’s FNSA is working with Wichlenski and McKnight on a presentation for the university’s 34th annual Powwow and Indigenous Cultures Festival on Apr. 8, 2023.

Watch the full apology in the video below.

More Stories Like This

DePaul University Designated AANAPISI Institution by US Department of Education
Chumash Foundation’s Technology in Schools Program Grant Application Deadline is April 30
Expanded Staff, New Space Helps Connect Labriola Center with Native American Community
American Indian College Fund Sets Higher Education Listening Sessions for April 16 & 22
American Indian College Fund Student-Designed Pendleton Blanket “Drum Keepers” Available for Purchase

Native Perspective.  Native Voices.  Native News. 

We launched Native News Online because the mainstream media often overlooks news that is important is Native people. We believe that everyone in Indian Country deserves equal access to news and commentary pertaining to them, their relatives and their communities. That's why the story you’ve just finished was free — and we want to keep it that way, for all readers.  We hope you'll consider making a donation to support our efforts so that we can continue publishing more stories that make a difference to Native people, whether they live on or off the reservation. Your donation will help us keep producing quality journalism and elevating Indigenous voices. Any contribution of any amount — big or small — gives us a better, stronger future and allows us to remain a force for change. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous-centered journalism. Thank you.

About The Author
Native News Online Staff
Author: Native News Online StaffEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Native News Online is one of the most-read publications covering Indian Country and the news that matters to American Indians, Alaska Natives and other Indigenous people. Reach out to us at [email protected].