MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Dakota tribal elders met Wednesday with leaders of the Walker Art Center and the artist behind the controversial “Scaffold” structure.
A professional mediator helped the group decide what to do with the gallows-inspired sculpture, which depicts several instances of executions throughout U.S history, including one in 1862 in Mankato when 38 Dakota people were killed.
The Mankato execution was the largest mass execution in American history.
Protests over the sculpture have delayed the opening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which is under renovation.
After hours of mediation behind closed doors, it was decided that a native-owned construction company will begin taking apart the sculpture on Friday at 2 p.m.
The deconstruction is expected to take several days. The move is a small step in building trust between the community and the Walker Art Center.
“It was beyond our comprehension that this could actually happen,” said Cheyanne St. John, of the Lower Sioux Indian Community.
Some Dakota elders in the meeting, like Sheldon Wolfchild, have lost relatives to gruesome executions throughout U.S. history.
“This is a painful part of history for our Dakota people, which includes the overt acts of genocide directed at our people, not something to be depicted in a sculpture,” she said.
After the mediation, it was determined that tribal elders will lead a ceremonial burning of the sculpture after it is dismantled.
California-based artist Sam Durant apologized for the trauma and suffering his sculpture caused. He said he’d wanted to draw attention to issues surrounding white supremacy and capital punishment, but he should have consulted with the Dakota people first.
“I had not met with the people who have been living with this history for 500 years and the effects of them on their lives their children and grandchildren,” he said.
Durant agreed to transfer the rights to the piece over to the tribe, realizing his work of art – meant to inspire conversation — was missing perhaps the most critical of voices.
The Walker Art Center also reiterated its apologies. Museum officials say they will do some internal restructuring to make sure more voices are included in future decision-making about the art displayed both inside and outside.
Here’s the full mediation statement:
Earlier today representatives including Dakota Spiritual and Traditional Elders, representatives from the four federally recognized Dakota tribes, the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and the artist Sam Durant issue the following statement. This results from the mediation process voluntarily facilitated by Stephanie Hope Smith, a Minnesota registered neutral mediator who specializes in sacred sites.
This is a report regarding the mediation process 6that has taken place to address the Scaffold Structure.
The artist Sam Durant has committed to never create the Dakota gallows again. He commits to transferring the intellectual property rights of this work to the Dakota Oyate (people).
The Walker Art Center agrees that it does not intend to construct this artwork again.
Collectively the work will be dismantled during ceremony beginning Friday June 2 at 2 PM led by the Dakota Spiritual leaders and elders. It takes four days to remove the wood. It will be removed by a native construction company and the wood will be placed in a fire pile near the remaining steel understructure with signage explaining the mutually agreed upon process until the wood is removed. This native construction company is donating their services and in exchange the Walker has agreed to match that value to support travel for elders to the ceremony.
The wood will be removed and taken to the Fort Snelling area because of the historical significance of this site to the Dakota Oyate where they will ceremonially burn the wood. The location logistics will be determined in a meeting with the Exec Director of MNHS Steve Elliot and the Spiritual and Traditional Dakota Elders. The date of this ceremony will be announced as soon as it is confirmed.
During the ongoing consultative process, the remaining understructure of steel and concrete will be removed, which should take several days. Because the Garden is still under construction, modification to the perimeter construction fence will be modified to allow space for the ceremony at the site of the artwork. Space will likely be limited, however the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will assure that there is adequate space for attendees to the ceremony on June 2.
The existing signs that are near the artwork will remain until the entire structure and construction fence are removed. The Walker will collect and distribute the signs as requested by their creators. The Grand Opening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will be June 10.
Updates will be provided to the press as this mediation process continues, which will be held at a neutral site.