Dakota elders have hit pause on plans to hold a ceremonial burning of the wood from "Scaffold," the sculpture modeled in part on the gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in 1862.
The wood has been moved to an undisclosed Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board facility, giving Dakota elders more time to come to a joint decision about its fate.
"The elders may decide that the wood from the sculpture should not be burned and instead should be used/disposed in some other way. Or they may choose to proceed," said a statement from mediator Stephanie Hope Smith, who has been facilitating talks between Dakota elders and officials of Walker Art Center and the city of Minneapolis. "But this decision will be made [in] their way and their time at the site of their choosing."
The agreement reached last Wednesday called for Los Angeles artist Sam Durant's work to be dismantled, then transported from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to Fort Snelling where it was to be ceremonially burned. Work proceeded quickly after a ceremony Friday at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden where prayers were shared, sage was burned, a bowl of tobacco offerings passed around, then chain saws tore into the two-story-high, wood-and-steel structure.
"Everything happened so fast and we had to coordinate quickly with our elders and follow through with the process to get [the sculpture] down as soon as we could," said Sheldon Wolfchild, a filmmaker from the Lower Sioux Agency who is part of the Dakota elders council. "Now that it is down, we are allowing other elders to work together again, to have another meeting to decide how the wood will be disposed of."
That meeting will come sometime later in June with a broader group — including elders and spiritual leaders from North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and possibly Montana and Canada.
Minnesota, or Mni Sota, was home to the Dakota for hundreds of years. Facing starvation after land treaties were broken and food rations denied by U.S. government agents, they took up arms. After the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, the Dakota people were dispersed to other states and Canada.
"We are allowing elders who live out of the state of Minnesota to be involved" in the decision, said Wolfchild. "In our ceremonies, we have never had such a burning ceremony. But that's up to our spiritual leaders to decide."
The wood was piled in storage containers, and transported late Monday. The Park Board declined to say where it is being stored, out of respect for the Dakota. Wolfchild said the wood will remain there for the next week, then the Dakota will negotiate what to do next. The steel from the structure will be recycled.
The 2012 sculpture, intended as a critique of capital punishment in the United States, is a composite of gallows from seven U.S.-sanctioned executions, including abolitionist John Brown in 1859 and conspirators in the killing of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. The Walker acquired it as one of 18 new works planned for the reopening of the Sculpture Garden, run jointly by the Walker, which has sole responsibility for the art, and the Park Board, which owns and maintains the site.
All of the art was funded through private donations, and no public money was used to dismantle "Scaffold," according to the Park Board. Financing for that work came from the Frederick R. Weisman Sculpture Acquisition Fund, an endowment created when the garden was founded in 1988.
The garden will reopen Saturday — a week later than scheduled, following protests that began May 26 in response to an open letter that Walker Executive Director Olga Viso addressed to the American Indian community, expressing regret over her failure to consult the Dakota about the placement of the work.
The Walker and Durant quickly acquiesced to requests from the Dakota community to dismantle the sculpture. Viso, in one of her first interviews since the controversy began, made clear Monday that the disposition of "Scaffold" was up to the Dakota people to decide, in their own time.