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Burnes earns Amos Owen Award

Lois Burnes catches her breath before accepting the 2012 Amos Owen Award from Barb von Haaren. The Red Wing Human Rights Commission honors someone every year during the Diversity Festival for promoting justice and equality for all people.1 / 2
Amos Owen III, 5, carries a photograph of his namesake and great-grandfather to the stage at the Diversity Festival. With him are Wynona, Carrie and Art Owen.2 / 2

Lois Burnes was helping children create paper fans at the far end of Central Park during Saturday's Red Wing Diversity Festival. When the time came for the Amos Owen Award, she heard bits and pieces about the recipient as wind, crowd noise and children's conversation competed with the sound system.

"Oh, that sounds like someone may be doing some good," she said to herself and kept working.

Barbara von Haaren of the Red Wing Human Rights Commission soon announced the winner: Lois Burnes.

And announced it again.

It was several minutes before Burnes clearly heard she had won. Stunned, she accepted first the award and then the surprise gift of a photographic portrait of the revered Dakota leader from his family.

"We are honored you use our father and his name," son Art Owen told the festival crowd.

"There are great people you come across in your life," he added as his grandson Amos Owen III presented Burnes with her gift.

Amos Owen nearly died during World War II. When he came back wounded from the Philippines, he returned to his Mdewakanton heritage and immersed himself in its language, culture and spirituality. He shared that tirelessly with people of all backgrounds.

The revered spiritual leader's works included leading reconciliation ceremonies for those Indians hanged in Mankato, Minn., after the 1862 Dakota War. Owen also oversaw the interment of Indian remains released by museums across the nation.

Owen died in 1990. The Human Rights Commission created the award in his honor in 2001. The group honors those who promote justice and equality for all.

Dawn Wettern, director of Red Wing Community Education, was among those who nominated Burnes. Quoting Owen, who said "Bridge the gap and bring people together in peace," Wettern wrote that Burnes "works tirelessly to 'bridge the gap' while helping to create a community that supports cross-cultural understanding, equality and peace for everyone."

Burnes and her husband raised four children, including one of Korean and one of Dakota descent. Since moving to Red Wing in 1998, she has served in numerous capacities including as an AmeriCorps volunteer, on the public library board, Community Education Advisory Council and the Walking the Talk of Welcome committee.

Burnes' involvement goes back to marches and demonstrations in the 1960s, Sharon Marty noted her in nomination letter: "Her volunteer efforts and her service on committees, boards, and commissions have all been about creating a more just and welcoming world for all people. In the spirit of Amos Owen, Lois always practices respect and understanding in bringing people together."

The festival featured music from several cultures and languages, including an impromptu song by Art Owen in Dakota. He translated one line of the song to the creator as "Pity us, because we want the gift of life back."

Scheduled performances included the drumming group Mu Daiko, mariachi band Groupo Triado, Native American dancer Larry Yazzi and

pianist/ukulele player Matt Rivera.

Coro Evangelico Shalom of Cuba sang before and after the Owen Award.

Anne Jacobson

Anne Jacobson has been editor of the Republican Eagle since December 2003. 

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