Plaque pulled: Lack of communication leads to investigation

Nick Lowrey

The Tetonkaha statue and plaque have stood at Sylvan Theater for 80 years. Over the last two decades, members of the Native American community have voiced that the plaque’s story is offensive.

This bronze plaque was reported stolen from Sylvan Theater on Sept. 26. Because of the long-time controversy, members of the Native American community removed it with the permission of university personnel. However, the proper communication channels were not utilized, as the Facilities and Services Department had no idea what happened to it.

Last spring, members of the Native American community began a dialogue with the President’s office about having the plaque removed. President David Chicoine, according to his executive assistant Bob Otterson, understood the Native American community’s position.

“To say [Chicoine] authorized it is a little strong,” Otterson said. “To say he understands the issue is a little more clear.”

On the plaque is a story that Otterson called “an urban legend.” The legend is about Tetonkaha, a Sioux Indian maiden, who fell in love with a white soldier. In the story, she warns him about a future attack by the Indians, which resulted in her being cast into a lake to drown.

The plaque is currently being stored in the Director of the American Indian and Cultural Center Scott Fleming’s office. It’s location has yet to be decided, but it will most likely not be returned to the theater.

However, there is a process that must be followed when changing a part of campus.

“I can’t allow faculty to assume they can take stuff and put it in their office,” said Dean Kattelmann, assistant vice president for Facilities and Services.

Miscommunication was the major factor in the whole situation.

University Police Officer Tim Anderson investigated the “theft”. His investigation lasted three hours. When he contacted the President’s office, he was told they knew the plaque had been removed, that it had not been stolen and was actually still on campus.

“As soon as we started looking into it people started asking questions, and we found out what happened,” said SDSUPD Chief Tim Heaton.

Facilities and Services, the department in charge of maintaining campus infrastructure, was only informed of what had actually happened on Monday.

“The proper way would have been for Facilities and Services to remove the plaque,” Kattelmann said.

He went on to explain he understands why the plaque was removed and  the incident should be used as a learning experience to prevent future miscommunications.

The process for modifying a part of campus involves a fair amount of waiting. Groups can make a request to a committee, which will then discuss the request and make a recommendation which will eventually land on Chicoine’s desk for approval. At that point, Facilities and Services will carry out the request.

That process was not followed.

“No one was authorized to remove it,” Kattelman said.

Director of Diversity Enhancement Jaime Nolan-Andrino said mistakes were made.

“While there was support, we still needed to go through the process,” she said.

The Diversity Enhancement Committee will help determine the plaque’s future by making a recommendation to the president on how to proceed.

Nolan-Andrino said they are also considering modifying the plaque so the story is more educational, rather than folklore.

“That’s a really sensitive process,” Nolan-Andrino said.

Editor-in-Chief Emma DeJong contributed to this report.