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Native artist chosen for UW-Stevens Point memorial project

July 12, 2022
Preliminary design of Native American memorial artwork showing Native graduates, a Native drummer and Native ancestors in the background

A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation has been selected as the artist who will create an outdoor memorial to Native Americans buried on campus grounds before the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point was established.

Christopher Sweet, a contemporary artist, has been commissioned for the Native American burial ground memorial. 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.

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. The mural will include a poem written by his cousin Denise Sweet, former Wisconsin poet laureate. 

He hopes students, employees and visitors to campus feel the ancestors’ encouraging spirit. “I wanted to focus on our ancestors’ resilience and the supportive foundation they have provided to guide those here today,” Sweet wrote in his proposal. Acknowledging their story has tragic elements, he said: “I want my mural to be uplifting and inspire current and future generations of our Indigenous students to thrive.”

Sweet was selected from 11 submissions by a committee that included the Natives representing the Ho-Chunk, Menominee and Potawatomi tribes. Native artists were given preference, as supported by the Federal Indian Art and Craft Act.

“Through his proposal and prior artwork, Christopher demonstrates a deep understanding of Native American history, voice and experience in Wisconsin,” said Chancellor Thomas Gibson, who named a commission of tribal, community and campus members to expand the educational opportunities for Native students, families and communities shortly after he became chancellor. The commission’s charge included recommending a permanent memorial to recognize Native ancestors.

Sweet will begin the 24- by 32-foot mural this month in his Baraboo studio. It will be installed in October.

Sweet, Ho-Chunk/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, N.M., 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. In 2021, he was one of several artists commissioned for a mural initiative, “Paint the County.” The mural is located in Amherst, Wis. 

The art memorial is one of several steps UW-Stevens Point is taking to educate people on and off campus about the tragedy that led to the burial of Native Americans. A temporary marker recognizes Native ancestors who died during a scarlet fever epidemic in the 1860s. In addition, a 12-credit Native American and Indigenous Studies certificate program will begin this fall.