'We Are Here'

Workers and local Native Americans gathered in the freshly fallen snow Tuesday to move the 19-foot-tall "We Are Here" statue from downtown Ashland to its new home in the Hannon Library at Southern Oregon University.

About 20 people, including Russell Beebe, the sculptor, and Lloyd Haines, who commissioned the piece in 2006, worked at length to slowly and carefully transplant the carved tree.

The outdoor sculpture was being moved inside because it had deteriorated faster than expected from exposure to the elements. The totem pole-like sculpture features the likenesses of local Takelma Indian elder Agnes Baker Pilgrim, a child, fish, birds and animals. The sculpture honors American Indian tribes that lived for generations in the Rogue Valley but were forced more than 150 years ago to move to the Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations in northwestern Oregon.

Members of the Native American Student Union at SOU were on-hand to offer tobacco and burn sweetgrass so that the process of moving the prayer pole would go smoothly. The crane needed to lift the statue and place it on a flatbed truck was delayed by two hours because of heavy snowfall, but once it arrived, the men in charge of the project worked quickly to get the statue safely and securely placed onto the truck.

Once the statue arrived at the Hannon Library, it took at least two to three hours and lots of manpower to get the sculpture into the library — a process those on hand described as a symbolic rebirth as it was inched through the double doors.

Dan Wahpepah of the Red Earth Descendents was in charge of the movement of the statue at the library. As the statue was wheeled slowly through the library, everyone was ordered to stop every few steps for a moment of silence to ask permission of the piece to be moved to its new location.

Then the large round cement base of the statue was pushed through the doors by several men utilizing electric forklifts. A piece of cement crumbled off the edges as the base barely squeezed through. Those on hand said the base weighed three times as much as the statue itself.

The statue's new home is on the west side of the first floor of the library, where the sunlight shines through large glass windows onto the sculpture. More sweetgrass was burned all around the space, and a ceremony led by Pilgrim's granddaughter was conducted before the prayer pole was lifted upright.

At about 4:30 p.m., Wahpepah led a team of people upstairs who held ropes and chains attached to the sculpture while many volunteers below held on to its underside and guidelines to steady it. Very slowly and carefully, the statue was lifted upright. Loud laughter, applause, hoots and hollers could be heard as the statue settled into its final resting place.

To see video of the daylong journey of the statue, go to www.dailytidings.com/video.

Reach Mandy Valencia at 541-776-4486 or email avalencia@mailtribune.com.

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