By Antonia Gonzales
Talks among Dakota elders, Walker Art Center officials and artist Sam Durant will result in the dismantling and burning of a controversial art installation.
Officials with the renowned art center in Minneapolis delayed the grand re-opening of its outdoor sculpture garden scheduled for this weekend after Native community members voiced concerns the scaffolding piece emphasizes a painful history for the Dakota people. In an original narrative about the scaffold installation Durant mentioned it was partly based on the structure used to hang 38 Dakota men in 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota. Critics say the piece inappropriately recalls that tragedy as well as the 1865 executions of leaders Medicine Bottle and Little Six at nearby Fort Snelling.
Sheldon Wolfchild, a relative of Medicine Bottle, was with the group of elders who organized to respond to the artwork.
“We’ve been affected for 500 years for all of our First Nations people on this whole process of injustice,” Wolfchild said. “When it came to the hanging sculpture, it just brought back all the generational trauma and emotions again for our people.”
Wolfchild says part of the process working with the art center involved sharing Dakota perspectives.
“Finally, educating the people of Minnesota and the rest of this country about the negative things they have done to get our land,” he said. “We are going to have part of a closure here in the burning of (the scaffold) and the terrible, terrible thing that happened to our people.”
The artist and the art center committed to never create the Dakota gallows again.
In a written statement, the Walker Art Center said this is the first step in a long process to rebuild trust with the Dakota and Native communities throughout Minnesota.
Plans call for crews to take the wooden structure down June 2. Native American leaders intend to hold a ceremony and burn the wood from the installation at Fort Snelling at a future date.