Hugging a Copper Bison

Mark Fischer (Oneida) watched dozens of people swarm around the copper bison. It took him 1,800 laborious hours to cut, hand-pound, form, weld, and grind the American buffalo sculpture Ancient Dignity II. After being honored in second place as Artist of the Year at the IACA Indian Market and Wholesale Show in Santa Fe, this moment seemed like the ultimate reward. With the faithful support of his family, friends, and First Peoples Fund, a dream had come true.

People show genuine interest in the hidden history this bison held for those willing to hear his story. Embellished around his waist is a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) wampum belt that represents the Great Law of Peace. Mark tells visitors how the Iroquois wrote the law, and that it’s recognized as the basis for the U.S. Constitution.

Bolts of lightning with rain patterns flow down the bison’s hind legs to represent and honor the Grandfathers. A medicine wheel on the buffalo’s hips is a universal symbol of peaceful interaction among nations. Mark chose a steel I-beam for the armature in the chest, to honor the Iroquois iron-workers who built New York City. When Mark explains this to the elders, they cry.

Ancient Dignity II made introductions and sparked conversations. Not only did this 1,200-pound sculpture educate people about true history of Native Americans, it brought out an affection in visitors, who took their photos with him. Ancient Dignity brought people to tears.

Appreciation expressed to Mark by members of his tribe, community and strangers has been rewarding. Mark thought his heart could not be warmed more than this.

But at that art market in Santa Fe, a little Navajo boy — maybe 3-years old — walked up to Ancient Dignity II. He hugged the copper bison before kissing it on the nose and gently stroking his cheek. The little boy spoke to the bison in his native language.

Mark’s heart melted. This was a dream come true.