Historical Society Wins Battle Over Capitol Art, but Loses War with Governor; Trump Budget Hurts Indian Country

Minnesota Historical Society set to lose its preservation authority, according to a story in the Star Tribune.

A painting of The Battle of Nashville hangs in the Governor’s Reception room, one of four Civil War paintings. Did a dust-up over art cost the Minnesota Historical Society its preservation role?

Under an omnibus bill Dayton is expected to sign today, the State Historic Preservation Office would be moved from the Minnesota Historical Society to the Minnesota Department of Administration.

Dayton proposed this move just a few months after the historical society and he disagreed over renovations to the Governor’s Conference Room, the story said.

The Governor’s Conference Room had six major paintings, including four Civil War scenes. The other two paintings concerned early events between Native Americans and explorers and settlers. One shows Father Hennepin “discovering” St. Anthony Falls; the other depicts the signing of the Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux, a coerced deal in which the Dakota ceded most of their lands. Native Americans and their allies wanted these two pieces removed.

Dayton didn’t see the need to fill the room with so much historic Civil War art. (See this Pioneer Press story or this Star Tribune story for more details.)

I sat through many hearings of the Art Subcommittee that debated art decisions for the newly renovated Capitol.The result of the lengthy process was that not much changed. The Father Hennepin and Treaty paintings will get moved out of the Governor’s Conference Room and the Civil War painting stay.

The Historical Society participated in this process. It’s my opinion that for the most part, staff had a deaf ear to proposals for major changes, particularly addressing issues of art that had offensive depictions of Native Americans. Further, the Art Subcommittee’s public participation process was deeply flawed. The only outside interests allowed to testify before the Subcommittee were people who supported keeping the Civil War art in the Governor’s Reception Room. It felt like the deck was stacked. Healing Minnesota Stories request to testify was denied. (We wanted to speak about offensive art in other parts of the Capitol, art that is still in place.)

The downside of moving the State Historic Preservation Office to the Department of Administration that it could make historic preservation issues more political, as the governor (from whatever party) will oversee the department.

Dayton’s staff said the disagreement over art did not play a role in the decision to transfer historic preservation powers. Jessica Kohen, historical society spokeswoman, expressed disappointment over the move in the StarTribune story. She said the historical society didn’t get a clear answer about problems with its preservation work.

Looming Trump budget cuts deepen distress on Pine Ridge, according to a recent CNN headline.

Pine Ridge’s poverty and unemployment rates are very high and life expectancy there is the shortest in the country, according to a recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, the story said.

The future at Pine Ridge could soon grow bleaker. The budget that President Donald Trump unveiled on Tuesday makes deep cuts to a slew of areas that life at the reservation depends on. The spending reductions touch every part of life from access to clean drinking water to block grants that fund programs to feed the elderly to much-needed after-school programs. In one of the nation’s most deeply impoverished communities, residents and tribal leaders say the cuts could be devastating.

 

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