Traditional Native American songs and drumming could be heard in downtown Ashland Thursday as about 100 people gathered around a newly installed bronze version of the "We Are Here" statue downtown.
The statue, which honors Native Americans, replaces a wooden statue at the juncture of Lithia Way and Main Street that had begun to deteriorate in the weather and was moved to a more sheltered site at Southern Oregon University.
Local Native Americans started the ceremony singing honor songs for the statue, while sage burned in sea shells at the base of the bronze.
Takelma elder Agnes Baker Pilgrim, whose likeness is featured on the statue, spoke of the healing that comes from the statue to the city and how she has forgiven what has happened in the past to her people.
"I'm very fortunate to stand here today as the only living elder descendent of the Takelma people, the people of the river," said Baker Pilgrim. "I feel so great and honored to be able to know that when I go to the star nation this will do its healing and continue to bring people together."
Sculptor Russell Beebe, who created the original statue, also spoke before the crowd and thanked Lloyd Haines, an Ashland attorney, for commissioning the piece.
"You know we all look for a way to do our part to help this world, and I didn't know I was going to get this opportunity. I want to say thank you to my friend, Mr. Haines, over here," said Beebe.
Beebe spoke about prayer poles and how traditionally eagle feathers adorn them, as their purpose is to ask that the lightning doesn't strike the home.
Beebe said by taking an eagle feather that used to adorn a wooden statue on the site and adding it to the new bronze one, he married the old with the new, creating a prayer pole.
Local artist Jack Langford created the new sculpture by casting 43 bronze sections and welding them together before they were ground down and polished for the finished piece.
Dan Wahpepah, a local member of the eagle clan, was asked by Beebe to hang the eagle feather on the bronze statue. Wahpepah climbed the ladder and attached the eagle feather to the headdress of the image of the man on the back side of the statue above the crowd, as they watched and cheered.
David West, director of Native American Studies at Southern Oregon University, showed the crowd a new eagle feather that he said will hang from the hand of the image of Baker Pilgrim on the statue. He spoke of how hurtful it was that people had stolen the eagle feathers in the past. But he said he came to think of it in different terms.
"I've decided that as long as I'm around I will continue to put feathers up there if people take them. Because if they take them, I prefer to feel that they needed them, and maybe the feather itself will help them to heal in body, mind, spirit and emotion, whatever it is that compelled them to take it. If they took it in a bad way, that too shall follow them and come back to them," said West.
After the ceremony downtown, the crowd moved to the Hannon Library the SOU campus to bless the original wooden statue.
"Join us so we can all make good medicine for the tree, because it was the beginning," said Baker Pilgrim.
West spoke of how uplifting it was to see the eagle feather blowing in the wind from the statue as he passed it on his way to work each day.
"I hope that every day as you drive past here, you know that these eagle feathers are flying here, that maybe you receive a blessing," said West. "Maybe you come by here with a heavy heart and you take just a minute to glance at this and feel uplifted so that your heart is good."
Reach reporter Mandy Valencia at 541-776-4486 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.