Spencer Museum Building (copy)

The fifth panel of the ‘Native Hosts’ exhibit on display at the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas was stolen Tuesday, according to an email sent out by campus leaders. Two days later, the KU Public Safety Office recovered the stolen “Native Hosts” panel and are currently talking with a person of interest. 

Following the recent theft of Indigenous artwork on Tuesday, the First Nations Student Association (FNSA) protested outside the Spencer Museum of Art to raise awareness for Indigenous people on KU’s campus and in the Lawrence community.

Amid a heavy downpour and rolls of thunder, students, faculty, staff and Lawrence community members gathered in support of FNSA and called on the administration to protect Indigenous people on campus.

“They’re choosing to ignore us; I don’t feel respected,” FNSA co-chair Tweesna Mills said to the crowd. “It hurts my heart to know that I don’t matter at my own school.”

The pieces of Native artwork that were stolen, the University’s Common Work of Art, “Native Hosts,” recognize Indigenous people were the first to walk upon this land. Mills said stealing this art stole part of Indigenous people’s culture and language.

“[The people who stole the work are] telling us they can take whatever they want and can do whatever they want to us,” Mills said. “We can’t be creative without feeling degraded on land that used to be our own, and [administration] is making us feel like we don’t matter and they don’t care.”

Many in attendance wore orange to remember children who were taken from their families and sent to boarding schools and never returned.

Thursday morning, the Spencer Museum of Art reported that the KU Public Safety Office recovered the stolen “Native Hosts” panel and are talking with a person of interest. 

In a letter addressing the crime, Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer, Chancellor Douglas Girod, and Marilyn Stokstad Director of the Spencer Museum of Art Saralyn Hardy, said they condemn this crime and are committed to amplifying Indigenous and Native voices. 

“It’s time for our faculty to wake up,” University Distinguished Professor Sarah Deer said. “Our duty to students does not rest in the classroom. We teach, but we need to be supporting our students in all the ways we are on this campus.”

The letter also said administration intends to host a public conversation about the vandalism and theft of the artwork and its effects on the community. 

“[KU] should advocate for and with us,” President of the Indigenous Community Center Robert Hicks Jr. said. “They could actually try and do something about it rather than just [putting] a statement out.”

Mills was set to have an art piece displayed at the Spencer in the coming days but instead has decided to give an oral presentation amid this vandalism and theft.

“Obviously, Indians can’t be creative out here and have their stuff left out here because it will be ruined,” Mills said. “It’s another way of silencing us. You’re silencing our artwork. Their excuses are not excused.”

Mills wants the full extent of prosecution for a felony once the suspects are identified as well as an apology to FNSA and KU community members who were affected but will continue to pray for them.

“I love going to school here and working here, and I’ve never felt this way,” Mills said. “I want [the suspects] to understand how hurtful and destructive it is to each individual here Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.”