17 March 2012

City Officials Disrespect Omaha Tribal Heritage

When officials of Omaha issued their edict - at a closed presentation - for revising Fontenelle Park features, the decision included an affront to the legacy of a iconic tribal leader and the Indian nation for which the city was named.

The park was named in honor of Logan Fontenelle, who was prominent as the tribe dealt with officials of the U.S. government during a time of change in the mid-1800s as settlers arrived to lands that were considered a frontier.

Portion of a General Land Office map showing Omaha Creek and the marshy area where Fontenelle Park was established. The park is in section 5.

For Omaha, the river city took the name of the tribe as a moniker for a bit of a settlement on the west bank of the Missouri River in the mid-1850s. A General Land Office map of 1856 shows the route of Omaha Creek, which once flowed through the current site of Fontenelle Park. Through the years, Omaha Creek was obliterated by urban development.

The site still certainly has a legacy that can be associated with the Omaha, and indirectly with Chief Fontenelle, and not only because of its selected name.

A plan to alter the park after the golf course was officially closed, a Fontenelle monument was shown to be included, as announced on site by Jim Suttle, Omaha mayor, Ben Gray, member of the Omaha city council, and Brook Bench, interim director of the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department.

The "memorial" would get placed upon a hilltop in the northwest section of the park. The idea for this recognition was one specific item presented at community planning meetings, though the preferred site was on a hilltop at the eastern edge of the park space. So rather than place the Chief Fontenelle memorial at a site where suggested, and as presented in an interim plan, it was moved to accommodate a disc-golf course. At the three public meetings, there was little or no interest in disc-golf, yet a decision was obviously made that this feature would get preference over what had been specifically requested by people attending the public forum.

Instead, because the bureaucrats wanted to have this course, the monument site was moved to the northwest corner of the park place.

The park was recently visited on a wonderful spring morning. The obvious, primary features of the indicated monument site were:

1) incessant noise from traffic on Ames Street; and
2) placement within a grove of a few pine trees which are dying due to disease, along with a few newly planted evergreens.

Another item to consider, based upon the plan issued by the city, is that a parking lot will be constructed just to the south, and in the future might be expanded eastward, to "cut-off" the northwest corner of the park from the remainder of the green space. The lot would be the prominent feature seen southward from the hillside, and encroach upon the view of the pending rip-rapped lagoon.

City officials have been disrespectful to the Omaha tribal legacy in their decision. Any monument to a great Omaha chief should not be placed where traffic noise, exhaust fumes, a soon-to-be nonexistent area of old trees and a parking lot are the prominent features of the setting.

The monument should be placed on the east side of the park. A site here would represent the eastern horizon, an important aspect to tribal lore. There should be flora which reflects the tribal culture, such as bur oak trees, wild plum, dogwood, cone flower and blazing star. None of these plants would be included in the "replanted pine forest" proposed in the park plan. Pines are not very prominent in the tribe's lore.

If the city is going to adhere to its errant site selection for the monument, it should not even be included since the site would be disrespectful to the legacy of the Omaha people. If the tribe cannot be suitably respected, there should not be anything done, by officials including primary features based on political whims.

A monument in a pine forest filled with traffic noise would also reflect an ignorance of perspective.

The same situation has recently occurred regarding the placement of a sign recognizing the Sandy Griswold Bird Sanctuary at Carter Lake. A Nebraska Game and Parks official suggested that the marker could be placed at the end of a fishing groin, i.e., a riprap construct dumped into the waters of the oxbow lake. This suggestion also vividly shows a lack of awareness or respect.

It is a disgrace that a disc-golf course would get precedence over suitable recognition of the source of the city's name. This is another example of disrespect of the native people of the Omaha area.

Any memorial setting for Chief Logan Fontenelle should be placed at an optimum site within the park, and not moved around to suit bureaucratic whims.