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Christopher Sweet chosen to create mural to memorialize Indigenous ancestors buried at UW-Stevens Point


Christopher Sweet has been selected to create a mural to memorialize the hundreds of Indigenous ancestors buried under the campus of UW-Stevens Point.

Historical records indicate that in the 1860s, members of the Ho-Chunk, Potawatomi, Ojibwe and Menominee nations were displaced to an area near Stevens Point, and many of them died of Scarlet Fever. Their bodies were placed unceremoniously in a quarry, which was also a garbage dump. In 1894, the Stevens Point Normal School – now UW-Stevens Point – was built over the site.

When the university announced in January that it was seeking an artist to create a memorial, Rob Manzke, chief of staff to chancellor Thomas Gibson, told Madison365 that the exact site of the burial is no longer known, but enough historical evidence has been gathered to surmise that it’s under the current campus

In December 2020, the university erected a temporary marker to acknowledge the tragedy, with plans to create a permanent memorial in a prominent location on the south side of the campus. That’s where Sweet’s mural will be.

“That was good that they gave that recognition,” Sweet told Madison365. “And then when I heard about them wanting to do something on a bigger scale, I got pretty excited about that.”

Sweet was one of 11 artists who submitted proposals. His project is a mural that will be painted on a free-standing wooden canvas near the Communication Arts Center and south of Dreyfus University Center. According to an announcement from the university, the mural will feature images and words to represent the Ho-Chunk, Potawatomi, Ojibwe and Menominee tribes honored in the Ancestors Buried Below Us memorial. A monochromatic color scheme will capture the essence of ancestors with raised hands to symbolize lifting up future generations, Sweet said. 

Christopher Sweet’s proposal draft. Image courtesy UW-Stevens Point.

“I didn’t want to make it a sorrowful image,” he said. “I want it to focus on more inspirational, uplifting stuff.”

Sweet said he asked his cousin, former Wisconsin Poet Laureate Denise Sweet, to write a poem for inspiration. She wrote a short piece called “Earth Diver,” which Christopher Sweet intends to incorporate into the piece as well.

Sweet, who is both Ho-Chunk and White Earth Ojibwe, was born in Wisconsin and lives in the Wisconsin Dells area. He studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and has exhibited work in solo and multi-artist shows. His commissioned works have been featured in printed materials and hang in corporate spaces, educational institutions, medical facilities and private collections throughout Wisconsin and the United States. 

He’s currently working this summer on a 16-foot wood sculpture as part of the Farm Art Detour as well as a mural in Milwaukee.

Sweet said begin work on the UW-Stevens Point mural soon in his Baraboo studio, and it is scheduled to be installed and unveiled in October.