After several months of deliberation, a Dakota elders committee has decided to move forward with plans to bury the wood from the dismantled “Scaffold” sculpture at an undisclosed location.
The burial will take place in mid-September, probably around Sept. 17 or 18, a committee member said Friday.
The Dakota elders committee met several times this summer under the guidance of Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a Dakota spiritual leader. He ultimately instructed the committee to move the wood from a storage unit to an undisclosed burial location.
“Arvol Looking Horse was very adamant that the wood not be burned,” said Ronald P. Leith, a member of the Dakota elders committee. “The wood has a spiritual nature that is inherent to itself in Lakota Dakota tradition. Of the four elements — fire, water, air, earth — you cannot use any of the elements in a disparaging fashion without putting yourself in a position of being disrespectful. To use fire to burn this wood that has a negative stigma attached to it — that is not allowed.”
Created by Los Angeles artist Sam Durant, “Scaffold” was to have been prominently featured in the revamped Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a partnership between the Minneapolis Park Board and the Walker Art Center.
Durant had intended his piece to be a statement about the history of capital punishment.
The design of “Scaffold” was based in part on the gallows used for the 1862 hangings of 38 Dakota warriors in Mankato, Minn., the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
But the sculpture deeply offended many American Indians and others, prompting a series of protests.
Shortly after the controversy broke, there was talk of ceremoniously burning the wood at Fort Snelling. But “the individuals that made the announcement had not consulted with Arvol, the chief of the nation — the spiritual chief,” Leith said.
They didn’t consult with him, added Leith, simply due to scheduling.
“Summer is a very busy time for the Dakota people — we have ceremonies, events, weddings, and on and on,” he said.
Shortly after protests began in late May, Walker Art Center Executive Director Olga Viso and artist Durant met with Dakota elders. Together they agreed to remove the massive structure from the Sculpture Garden. The piece was dismantled and removed at a Dakota-led ceremony on June 2.
Keeping the wood’s burial location secret also has historical significance, one that recalls the history of the original 1862 gallows, native leaders say.
“During 1862, when the original scaffold was dismantled and the prisoners were buried ... there was a deluge of scavengers, grave diggers, that went after the wood — souvenir, hunter types,” said Leith. “We have a concern that if we were to disclose where the wood was going, we might see a repeat of that same thing.”
The Dakota elders committee is made up of interested people who are members of Dakota tribes or of Dakota descent.
The tribal governments of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, Prairie Island Indian Community, Lower Sioux Community and Upper Sioux Community were not involved in the “Scaffold” wood burial decision.
The Walker Art Center “continues to be in discussion with representatives of the Dakota community and we respect their decisions regarding the wood,” said a representative.
The elders committee will issue an official announcement via social media Sept. 12 about the burial of the wood.