The Dakota leader Cloud Man died more than 150 years ago, but his legacy and the story of his former village on the shores of Lake Calhoun are being revived in Minneapolis.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is working with the city’s Art in Public Places to find ways to include artwork recognizing the abandoned Heyata Otunwe village and its leader at the lake, which is also known by its Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska.
The art project is in the early stages of planning. But the city has agreed to contribute $225,000 for a gathering space and artwork that celebrates Dakota culture, the natural history of the lake and its connection to the Dakota community.
The Park Board plans to contribute $250,000 for related design work and site construction.
Mary Altman, the city’s public arts administrator, said they are seeking artists with a good grasp of the history of Cloud Man and Heyata Otunwe for the project.
“It’s one of the places in the city that’s really a significant place in terms of the history of the Native American community,” Altman said. “We have very little art honoring the Native community and their historical role in Minneapolis.”
Taylor Rose Payer, a member of the Turtle Mountain Anishinabe, sees the juxtaposition of the ancient name with public art as a promising start, but she wants to see Dakota artists tapped to lead the project design.
“When we are dealing with Bde Maka Ska, it’s especially powerful to have Dakota artists making visual depiction of their own stories,” said Payer, director of arts and cultural engagement at the Native American Community Development Institute. “Anytime you’ve the people getting to tell their own stories especially through visual art, it’s provocative, important, educational and really transformational in so many ways.”
The Park Board and the city are consulting with descendants of Cloud Man as they move forward. The descendants have said the artwork “should reflect the generosity of the Cloud Man and the Dakota people.”
Park program manager Deb Bartels said her team is taking those leads and will construct a public gathering space that’s educational and complements the Dakota art.
“We haven’t had a strong relationship with the Native American or the Dakota community in the past,” she said. “We are hoping that this is a way we can start that relationship and build it.”
Kate Beane, a historian and one of Cloud Man’s descendants, said the way to build that relationship is through correct interpretation of the Dakota history. Beane said the signs bearing both Bde Maka Ska and Lake Calhoun are a step in the right direction, but not enough.
“Bde Maka Ska is so important to us,” Beane said. She noted the Dakota fished and harvested indigenous food and medicines at the lake and called it home for years before the first missionaries or government agents came to the area.
The city enlisted Beane to collect archival materials and interview descendants of Cloud Man to influence the artwork. She said she would like to see artwork scattered around the lake — not just in one place — so visitors have multiple chances to encounter it.
“What we are looking at is a way to really acknowledge our people around the lake in multiple ways,” she said.
But before any permanent art is installed, Bartels said, the Park Board must finish the Calhoun-Harriet master plan and complete site improvements, partly paid for with a $3.7 million Met Council grant that expires in June 2018.
Meetings to gather community input on the art project will be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 2 and Feb. 27 at the American Indian Center, 1530 E. Franklin Av., Minneapolis.