The Historical Society’s Very Weak Attempt at Truth Telling in the Minnesota State Capitol

1929 plaque honoring Alexander Ramsey in the Minnesota State Capitol

An old African proverb says: “Until the story of the hunt is told by the lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

And so it is in the Minnesota State Capitol building and the stories it tells about the early settlers and the Dakota, the original people of this place. A historic plaque hangs in the hallway near the Governor’s office extolling Alexander Ramsey, the state’s first Territorial Governor and its second Governor after statehood.

It was placed there in 1929 by a group called “The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America.” The plaque tells the colonial story, saying Ramsey was:

RESOLUTE AND VIGOROUS IN ACTION
FAR-VISIONED AND SAGACIOUS IN COUNSEL
HE GAVE THE STRENGTH AND
ENTHUSIASM OF HIS LIFE
THAT THE FOUNDATIONS OF THIS
COMMONWEALTH MIGHT BE
WELL ESTABLISHED.

Not surprising for the time, the plaque failed to acknowledge Ramsey’s mercenary side, such his role in forcing through unfair treaties, or his decision to put bounties on Dakota scalps after the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862.

The Minnesota State Capitol just underwent a major $300-million-plus renovation. It included a vigorous debate over how to tell Minnesota history through art and interpretation. Historically, gubernatorial portraits have lined the Capitol corridors with only the governor’s names and dates of office. The renovation added short biographical narratives for each governor.

The narrative accompanying Ramsey’s portrait is an improvement over the plaque, but still falls well short of freeing itself of the colonial narrative. Instead of telling multiple sides of the story, the narrative is a sad amalgam of dry and irrelevant facts and narrative that lacks context. Its silence on Ramsey’s major flaws speaks volumes about the Historical Society’s inability to tell difficult truths about the state. Continue reading

Growing Scrutiny of Public Art, Next Up: Edward Cornwallis

The sun is setting on the Edward Cornwallis statue.

Public art is getting long overdue scrutiny, from Confederate statues in Louisiana to historical paintings in the Minnesota State Capitol to the Scaffold sculpture controversy at the Walker Art Center. This is more than a few isolated incidents, it feels more like a movement.

This fact hit me square on while visiting Nova Scotia earlier this month. I wasn’t expecting any public art controversies, but there it was. I picked up a copy of the Globe and Mail and one of the first headlines I read said: Halifax mayor speaks out against protesters’ plan to remove Cornwallis statue. It was a familiar story:

Tensions over how Halifax honours its contentious founder are growing as a plan to topple the statue of Edward Cornwallis from a downtown park circulates on social media.

A Facebook event called “Removing Cornwallis” invites people to a protest Saturday to “peacefully remove” the large bronze statue from atop a large stone pedestal.

This is not a far-away story. This is our story, too. It’s one more facet of the Doctrine of Discovery and the European mindset towards indigenous peoples that spans our continent.

Cornwallis is controversial for the same reason that Alexander Ramsey, Minnesota’s first Governor, is controversial. Both men were agents of empire, forcing indigenous peoples from their lands. Both used brutal tactics. Cornwallis issued a proclamation promising a bounty for the scalp of every Mi’kmaq (also called Mi’kmaw, the First Nations people of Nova Scotia). Similarly, Ramsey put a bounty on Dakota scalps after the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862.

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Pressure Coming on Banks Backing Dakota Access Pipeline; This Day in History: The Fraudulent Treaty of Old Crossings

The camp is filled with signs and flags, large and small
A flag flying at the Protectors Camp.

Those opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline are opening a new front in efforts to stop the project: They are following the money.

Pipeline opponents are putting the public spotlight on the many financial institutions funding the pipeline. A recent article in Yes! Magazine headlined: “A Strategy to Stop the Funding Behind the Dakota Access Pipeline” suggests nonviolent civil disobedience to highlight the disconnect between banks public stance on green energy and their financial backing of the pipeline.

An analysis by Food & Water Watch shows a combined 38 financial institutions have provided a $10-billion-plus credit line to companies working on the Dakota Access Pipeline, the article says. The financial institutions include Wells Fargo, US Bank, Citibank, Bank of America, UBS, and Morgan Stanley. According to the article:

Many of these banks may be vulnerable to pressure. For one thing, they’re eager to appear green: Bank of America, for instance, recently announced plans to make all its bank branches “carbon-neutral” by 2020. Which is nice — solar panels on the roof of the drive-thru tellers are better than no solar panels. But as [Rainforest Action Network’s Amanda] Starbuck said, it’s basically meaningless stacked up against Bank of America’s lending portfolio, chock full of loans to develop “extreme fossil fuels, which are simply incompatible with a climate-stable world.”

One major loan for the Dakota Access Pipeline hinges on the project getting key government permits, a point of vulnerability given the federal government’s recent action which increased environmental reviews.

Yes! Magazine provided contact names for leaders of 17 of the banks so people can write letters. Also, protests at banks have sprung up across the country from Long Beach to the Bronx, the article says.

For more pipeline updates and a summary of the Treaty of Old Crossings, signed on this day in 1863, read on.

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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: Continue reading