Student receives funding for Indigenous statue


Elaina Sepede

Junior Maddie Henson sits in the Waterman Building wearing a jacket with deer bone buttons passed down through her family Nov. 13. Henson’s rings have also been passed down to her, they represent the wings of life, mother earth and father sky, she said.

Junior Maddie Henson recently received $100,000 from an anonymous donor to build a statue to honor indigenous people, she said.

Henson co-founded the Indigenous People’s Collective and is chair of the committee on student action and well-being in SGA. The idea for the project originated in SGA in early November 2019, but the verbal agreement for the donation occurred this year, Henson said.

Henson’s project is separate from SGA and is related to the work of the IPC. Henson said her colleagues for the project include Erika Nestor, the director of major gifts at UVM Foundation, and Tiffany Tuttle, pre-doctoral social work and first nations fellow at UVM.

Nestor was unable to comment due to the UVM Foundation’s media policy, according to a Nov. 9 email from  Ben Yousey-Hindes, assistant VP for communications and stewardship. Jim Keller, CEO of the UVM Foundation declined to comment.

The donor is a UVM alumni that wishes to remain anonymous in order to place emphasis on the indigenous students on campus, Henson said.

Henson said she wasn’t expecting the donation at all. She found out she had received $100,000 on the phone after pitching the idea to the UVM Foundation. This was separate from Nestor’s previous call informing the donor about the idea for the statue.

“I was in shock for a couple of weeks […] it went from zero to a hundred,” Henson said.

Henson and her team are still in the process of budgeting the money for different aspects of the statue. Their goal is to set aside a portion of the money for future upkeep. They will be selecting an artist from an indigenous New England tribe, Henson said.

Henson said she and her group are leaving the depiction of the statue up to the artist. The goal of the statue is to show that they’re caring for the next seven generations, which is native prophecy claiming today’s choices will result in a sustainable world seven generations in the future.

Still, Henson wants the statue to be interactive. Because this project was Henson’s proposal, she has creative oversight, and currently envisions a woman laying with her hands out for children to jump or sit on, she said.

Henson has no personal ties to local tribes but she enjoys learning about tribal politics, she said. Henson’s tribes are all from out west. Henson’s affiliate Tuttle is a member of the Santee Sioux Tribe of the Dakota Nation, according to the UVM Foundation website.

The statue will be geared towards the elder-to-child relationship and teaching the next generation about the past and preserving the future, Henson said.

“There’s no specific tribe [the statue is honoring],” Henson said. “I want this to be a beacon for all indigenous people.”

At the moment, their ideal location is in front of the Waterman Building, Henson said.

“UVM has a promise to indigenous communities to do better,” Henson said. “[I hope] people notice that there is a problem.”

Tuttle shares Henson’s hope and vision that the statue will be a site of societal participation. Tuttle said this project is for more than just indigenous people, it’s for the entire UVM community and greater Burlington area.

“My perspective on indigenous issues is not a unanimous perspective that all indigenous people share,” Henson said. “I’m not the only pinpoint on campus for activism. I just happened to be the one who is most visible due to my SGA work.”