Here’s another tragic example where Native lives and history are invisible to key decision-makers: The Minnesota Department of Transportation thoughtlessly unearthed Anishinaabe graves as part of its Mission Creek Bridge project in Duluth. Just like officials at the Walker Art Center and the controversy over Scaffold, MnDOT is now scrambling to offer a profound apology. Here it is, reported by Minnesota Public Radio:
“No question, disturbing the sacred burial sites was an incredibly horrific event,” MnDOT Commissioner Charles A. Zelle told a meeting at the Fond du Lac Community Church last night. “We do take responsibility. … We’re just beginning to understand the pain and the anger that comes from a disruption that we could have avoided.”
According to the Duluth News Tribune report on the community meeting:
[People wanted to know] how and why, after five years of planning, the [Fond du Lac] band was not consulted and no flags were raised, considering the historic nature of the area in Duluth’s Fond du Lac neighborhood where highway construction was taking place.
The agency said its process did not include working with the band, and that process had failed.”
Just like Walker’s decision to erect a sculpture replicating the scaffold used to hang 38 Dakota men — one of the most tragic days in Dakota history — no one at MnDOT thought to consult with affected Native communities. There wasn’t any policy in place to even raise the question.
This issue is bigger than the Walker; it is bigger than MnDOT. It reflects our state’s lack of education about Minnesota’s first peoples and their history — and our institutional cultures that are comfortable remaining ignorant.