Scaffold was wrong in 1862 and it's offensive today

Valerie Guimaraes - use this mug, please
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"Scaffold," the sculpture by Sam Durant and originally to be installed by the Walker Art Center in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, is ignorance and systemic racism at its finest. It is such an abomination that it is difficult for me to call it art in any form.

"Scaffold" refers to the largest mass execution in United States history. President Abraham Lincoln ordered the hanging of 38 Dakota men for their alleged role in the Dakota Conflict of 1862, which was sanctioned by the U.S. government and by the founding father's of Minnesota, such as Gov. Alexander Ramsey. Many of these Dakota men were innocent of their crimes. They were hung on Dec. 26, 1862, in Mankato.

The artist claims he did extensive research to be as accurate as he could be when he recreated the scaffold. However, he and the Walker Art Center should have taken the time to consider what such a depiction of hate and genocide might mean to the Dakota people who have lived in Minnesota since time immemorial.

I remember my grandmother as she recounted the story of the Dakota 38, with tears in her eyes, so that I would know the truth. It is important to note that "Scaffold" represents a very painful and tragic part of our history. Our people know the names of each of the men who were hanged and we know the song they sang before they were killed. Such memories for me were and are very sacred. The Dakota 38 will always be honored and remembered.

Sheldon Wolfchild , who was part of the meeting to discuss the heinous sculpture with the Walker Art Center and the artist, blamed "the lack of historical truth in our education system" for people not understanding the pain such an edifice would cause the Dakota people. I would say that extreme insensitivity of the sculpture erected at the Walker Art Center can be blamed on the lack of historical truth and the systemic racism that exists in our society as a whole, with regard to the numerous atrocities committed by the U.S. government and a host of "founding fathers" against this nation's first people.


And no, I am not dwelling in the past, as many well-intentioned people like to say. I am including the present day as well -- witness the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In the meeting with Walker officials, the artist, and Dakota elders and tribal leaders, it was decided to dismantle the heinous sculpture and burn it in a ceremony at Fort Snelling. Fort Snelling is where the Dakota people were taken after they were force-marched and then imprisoned immediately after the Dakota Conflict. It is my understanding that the burning ceremony will help repair the relationship between the Walker Art Center and the Dakota people, and help reconcile this debacle.

The art center will also diversify its holdings, seek out Native artists and so on. While this is a nice first step for one organization in Minnesota, I can't help but wonder about the other "scaffolds" that surround us, like the art in the Minnesota Capitol, the art on the flag of Minnesota, and so on.

Another discussion for another time.

2012 marked 150 years since the Dakota Conflict. Gov. Mark Dayton said, "I am appalled by Governor Ramsey's words and by his encouragement of vigilante violence against innocent people, and I repudiate them. The viciousness and the violence, which were commonplace 150 years ago in Minnesota, are not accepted or allowed now."

He asked us "to remember that dark past; to recognize its continuing harm in the present; and to resolve that we will not let it poison the future."

I would echo these sentiments. The scaffold shouldn't have been built in 1862, and it shouldn't have been rebuilt as an artwork.


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