Capitol Art Update; Remembering the “Wisconsin Death March”

The Art Subcommittee reviewing art in the Minnesota State Capitol will present its final report to the Minnesota State Capitol Preservation Commission on Monday, August 15th, 10 a.m. – noon, at the 5th Floor Conference Room of Veterans Service Building, 20 W. 12th Street, Saint Paul (just south of the Capitol).

The Art Subcommittee developed very weak and disappointing report. For instance:

  • Native tribes expressed strong criticism about the historic art and how it portrayed Native Americans and early Minnesota history. Their comments appeared to have little if any impact on the final decisions.
  • None of the offensive and racist art will be removed; two pieces will be relocated within the Capitol.
  • The Art Subcommittee ducked its opportunity to make recommendations on the art in the House and Senate Chambers and the Minnesota Supreme Court Chambers. It deferred to the House, Senate and Supreme Court to make those decisions, missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to recommend significant changes to very outdated narratives of Manifest Destiny.
  • The Art Subcommittee expects to address offensive art with better interpretation. However, there does not appear to be money in the budget for new interpretation. In the short term, the offensive and racist art will apparently stand without a counter narrative.
  • The only outside group allowed to testify directly to Art Subcommittee was a group that wanted to preserve the status quo, defending the Civil War paintings in the Governor’s Reception Room. The Subcommittee denied Healing Minnesota Stories’ request to testify.

The Capitol renovation will create a lot of new wall space for new art to tell new Minnesota stories. That is encouraging. Yet leaving all of the historic art in the Capitol reflects a failure of political will, and a moral blindness to the offensive stories the art tells.

For more, see our Capitol Art page on the blog.

Remembering the Wisconsin Death March

Minnesota Public Radio ran an important piece today remembering how hundreds of Ojibwe people died in the winder of 1850-51 in northern Minnesota when the U.S. government failed — again — to deliver on treaty promises.

The story was headlined: In Minnesota, Ojibwe recall horror of ancestors’ death march. The event is sometimes referred to as the Wisconsin Death March, the story said. The U.S. Government wanted to move Ojibwe people who lived in Wisconsin and Michigan west to Minnesota. It ordered Ojibwe people to come Big Sandy Lake to get their promised food and annuity payments. Some 5,000 Ojibwe came from Michigan, Wisconsin and other parts of Minnesota, but when they arrived in the fall there was nothing for them. An estimated 400 died that winter, some at Big Sandy, others trying to get home. According to the story:

Some historians blame Alexander Ramsey, Minnesota’s territorial governor at the time. He lobbied the federal government to bring the Native American tribes to Minnesota, hoping to capture the economic benefits of the federal treaty payments for the state, [Jim] Zorn said.

But failure to deliver promised food left the Native Americans starving and susceptible to disease as winter set in.

Click on the link above for the full story.

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