Jesse Larson walked around his niece Angela Two Stars' artwork "Okciyapi (Help Each Other)" in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden Saturday, waving a giant bundle of sage. Its cleansing smoke wafted through the air as her artwork was officially unveiled.
Jessica Glidden, an Ojibwe from Bois Forte and an Indian educator in Hopkins public schools, was close to tears as she looked on.
"As Native Americans, we struggle with visibility," she said. "Just the presence, that we are still here, that we are not a people of the past, who are often romanticized. It is just nice to be honored in this way and be given space on our ancestral lands."
Along with Two Stars, a couple hundred people attended the dedication, which was led by Larson and Lakota orator Jerry Dearly.
Also offering speeches were several Dakota speakers who learned the language from Two Stars' grandfather Orsen Bernard, and Walker Art Center Executive Director Mary Ceruti.
"It is no small feat to create a public work of art that can be a site of inspiration, a reflection, and a connection, and I am thrilled to be celebrating such a work today," said Ceruti, after noting the Walker's institutional involvement in Native land dispossession, a factor in the wealth amassed by lumber baron T.B. Walker.
The unveiling marked the next step in a healing process following the emotionally charged 2017 takedown of "Scaffold," a sculpture based in part on the gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men following the U.S.-Dakota War in 1862, the largest mass execution in American history.
After a deluge of protests over the sculpture, the museum apologized, and the piece was removed in a Dakota-led ceremony.
"Okciyapi (Help Each Other)" was commissioned by the Walker as part of its effort to make amends for "Scaffold," as well as to celebrate Dakota language and culture.
Inside the 47-foot-wide labyrinth-like structure, 24 panels highlight Dakota words and phrases; people can use QR codes to see translations and hear stories by Dakota speakers. In the center, a bubbling circle of water reflects the sky.
Two Stars worked with landscape architect firm Urban Ecosystems on the creation.
In the blessing part of the ceremony, Larson noted that he hoped people would "pray to Wakan Tanka — to God — that this be accepted by him as something that is sacred."
Four Dakota U.S. Army veterans stood watch over the sculpture, marching forward as a group of men beat drums and sang. People laughed and wept throughout.
"The [Dakota] language has helped me fill a void," said Eric DuMarce, who learned it from Bernard. For him, Bernard's actions made "ripples" into his and other people's lives.
"I see this water coming up from the center," said DuMarce. "And it is water that unifies all of us in our existence."
Two Stars has said she was inspired by her grandfather's language revitalization efforts, the healing journey she went through while learning Dakota, and her desire to give back to her community. She has passed the language on to her children.
Referring to her grandfather, she said, "When we lose an elder, it's like a library burns to the ground. Orsen was like a huge library with volumes and volumes of knowledge, and he was willing to share that with anyone who was willing to listen.
"So that's what this piece represents — for everyone to come in and sit and listen to the Dakota language."
Alicia Eler • 612-673-4437