Kate Beane fills many roles.
She is executive director of the Minnesota Museum of American Art in downtown St. Paul, serves on the Capitol Area Architectural Planning Board and is an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota. As board chair of the Lower Phalen Creek Project, she's leading continuing efforts to better connect the nature sanctuary with its Dakota history, traditions and spirituality.
A citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, Beane was born in Phoenix, Ariz. and raised all over country. She and her family returned to their home of Minnesota — with ancestors who lived at Bde Maka Ska, Kaposia and what is now Eagan — and worked to change the name of the former Lake Calhoun.
Did we mention the 44-year-old is also the mother of three young girls?
Eye On St. Paul recently visited with Beane at the downtown museum, now undergoing renovations, to better understand how her identity infuses her work. This interview was edited for length.
Q: Your roots in this area are really deep.
A: They are. And I think, when I was interviewing here for the position at the [museum], that was one of the things that really helped my application stand out. I really understand the history of this place. I'm interested in representation of people who have been marginalized.
My family were among those who were forced out [in 1863]. I come from a family that was imprisoned and exiled.
Q: You've talked about the importance of place names. Why is it so important to know the names that were here before?
A: Different cultures approach naming in different ways. For us as Indigenous people, naming is incredibly important. And when you think about how naming is tied to legacy, it's important to think about the values that we have. And who is it that we're honoring?
It's important for people to understand that a lot of these places have more than one name. And when you think of the official name of a place, that name should be representative and respectful of the residents.
Q: How does your background influence your work at this museum?
A: As an Indigenous person, I learned a while ago that it is more detrimental for me to compartmentalize who I am. I have to be able to bring my whole authentic self to wherever I am — whether that's as a Dakota woman, whether that's as a mother, as a scholar, or as a daughter.
Q: Your background is in academia. What pulled you toward the arts?
A: I was naturally drawn to the arts; I was involved in a film with my father about my grandfather Charles Eastman, who was one of the first Native medical doctors. He fought for American Indian people to be seen as citizens. He was educated at Dartmouth College and tended to those wounded at Wounded Knee.
But more people know who he is in other countries than here in Minnesota. Over the last 20 years, we've seen a lot of improvement on that front, in terms of public education.
Q: Why is that?
A: There's been a lot of Indigenous people who are speaking up. People are finally at the table. People are being listened to. And, honestly, it's taken a lot of work.
Q: You're one of the people who've done that work.
A: Well, I'm one of the later people who have done that work. You know, I think about my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents. People like Charles Eastman — who worked their entire life to help the public understand.
When I started looking into some of my family history, my father took us to Bde Maka Ska. I knew about that lake because Charles Eastman had written about our family connection there. So, when we went to that place, I felt like I was at home. What that told me was that we've never left this place. Our spirits are still here.
Q: Why is it hard for some to accept Indigenous people's connections to these places?
A: I think there are different reasons for that. One of those reasons is racism. That mentality of white supremacy. The idea that some people are better than others. One of the reasons I became involved in the museum world is that museums are a place that can really help develop empathy.
I've read the papers of missionaries and government agents. They were documenting what they thought was a dying people. And so, when we say that we are resilient, that we are survivors, it's because — as one scholar wrote — we are the unfinished business of colonization. We made it. We're still here.
Q: When I walk through the museum exhibits, will I see your culture there?
A: Absolutely. Oftentimes we're seen, because we're only 1% of the population, as so insignificant. But as a mother of three little girls, it is imperative for me to be able to disrupt that way of thinking, to help people to see that we are just as important as everyone else. And that it is imperative that we be included in these spaces.
Art and storytelling give us a way to come together and relate to one another. There is so much that divides us as a society, and it is so easy to feel defeated. But when you come from a community that is as resilient as mine, you find strength and power in the ways in which the families have continued to survive. And the ways our stories and traditions have continued to survive.