Sandmann, Trump, and the Aversion to Apologies

It’s difficult to keep up with the roiling fallout from the standoff between high schooler Nick Sandmann and Native elder Nathan Phillips near the Lincoln Memorial last Friday.

We need to take a collective breath, peal away the perceived complexity of the story, and get down to a basic question: Why is it so hard to apologize? Continue reading

A Lame Apology and Poems with a Punch

Mark Charles (Navajo) told me a while back about the lamest apology ever made, the one Congress made to Native Americans, the one buried in the  2010 Defense Appropriations Bill.

Until recently I hadn’t heard about the poem that apology inspired.

Before getting to the poem, let’s take a couple of steps back to the beginning of the story: Senate Joint Resolution 14, proposed in the 111th Congress (2009). The resolution starts by acknowledging: “a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.” Continue reading

MnDOT Project Desecrates Native Graves, One More Example of Native Invisibility

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.

Will Walker Embrace Institutional Changes in the Wake of “Scaffold” Controversy?

Olga Viso, Executive Director of the Walker Art Center at the Wednesday news conference.

The Walker Art Center will look for ways to bring more diversity and perspective to its board and staff following the recent controversy over the Scaffold Sculpture, said Olga Viso, Walker’s executive director.

She made her comments at a Wednesday news conference announcing an agreement to remove the sculpture, part of a mediation between Dakota elders, the Walker, and the sculpture’s artist, Sam Durant. In her formal remarks, Viso said:

“We pledge to host forums for continued listening and learning. We will reach out to Native communities including Upper Sioux, Lower Sioux, Shakopee and Prairie Island nations who have asked for dialogue and continued dialogue …

We will help bridge gaps of understanding among staff, among our board, among our audiences. We will examine our institutional structures and work to make structural change, which will take time.

Later in the Q&A, she was asked to elaborate on what institutional changes she envisioned to bring more voices to the table. She gave a brief answer: “So talking about representation on the board, more representation on the staff,” she said, and creating forums and other opportunities “to forge more deep connections for consultations so this doesn’t happen again.” Continue reading

Dakota Elders to Walker Art Center: Tear Down That Scaffold

Scaffold sculpture at the Sculpture Garden.

Dakota elders are asking the Walker Art Center to remove the new “Scaffold” sculpture from its soon-to-be reopened sculpture garden, according to an email from Graci Horne, who is both Dakota and Hunkpapa Lakota.

This is a sculpture seen from two vastly different world views.

To Horne and other Dakota, this is about cultural appropriation. The artist, Sam Durant, is white. This is about a white artist making money off of a story that is not his to tell. This is about the Dakota people having been left out of the conversation altogether.

To Olga Viso, the Walker Art Center’s Executive Director, the sculpture is a broader commentary on capital punishment. “I see it as a white artist who is looking at white power structures and systems of control that have subjugated nations and peoples throughout our history,” she said in a phone interview with Healing Minnesota Stories.

Sketch of the gallows from the mass hanging of Dakota men in Mankato in 1862 (Wikimedia Commons)

The sculpture is as big as a two story house. It depicts gallows from seven different hangings, most prominently the mass hanging of 38 Dakota men following the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862. Other gallows include the replicas from the hangings of John Brown, Saddam Hussein and the 1926 hanging of Rainey Bethea, a 26-year-old black man hung in 1926 in Owensboro, Kentucky, the last U.S. public hanging. The gallows from the mass hanging of the Dakota 38 is the most visible part. It is the sculpture’s exterior into which the other gallows are nested.

Viso has published an apology for not including Dakota people in this process. She has promised to meet with members of the Dakota community. That process is still unfolding.

In the meantime, protests at the Sculpture Garden are just getting started. Continue reading

Yukon Presbytery Apologize to Native Alaskans; This Day in History: The Indian Child Welfare Act

OK, it’s election day, so we’re going to blog with some good news: Presbytery of Yukon offers apology to Native Alaskans. (The Yukon Presbytery covers all of Alaska.) As the Presbyterian News Service reported it:

Native representatives and the presbytery both acknowledge this significant gesture is the start of a long process to address the abuses of the past century, especially as it relates to the treatment of Native Alaskan children at church-affiliated boarding schools.

Continue reading

Local Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee Ceremony; Canadian TRC Issues Final Report; Power Struggle on White Earth

Healing Minnesota Stories/SPIN encourage you to attend the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Communities’ observance of Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee: Toward Indigenous and Global Healing.

The event is: Tuesday, Dec. 29, 12:00 noon at the Dupuis House, (northwest corner of D Street and Hwy 13, on site of Sibley House), 1357 Sibley Memorial Hwy, Mendota, (map). A pot luck will follow at 2 p.m.

This event responds to the Call for Healing on the occasion of the 125th Memorial Ceremony at the site of the Wounded Knee massacre, and the 25th Reunion of the Chief Big Foot Band Memorial Ride. This will be the Inaugural Global Ceremony to End Massacre. Communities around the globe are joining at noon in their own time zones with prayers and pledges to end massacres around the world.

Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Releases Final Report

On Dec. 15, the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its final report, including its 94 Calls to Action. Recommendations range from No. 1, detailing how to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in the Canadian child welfare system, to No. 94, changing the Canadian citizenship oath. Here’s the proposed new oath:

I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen. [emphasis added]

Recommendation 58 read:

We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.

At a news conference the day after the report’s release, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would seek such a formal apology from the Pope. The CBC report gives more details on Trudeau’s comments.

Power Struggle on the White Earth Reservation

MPR reported Dec. 23 that “A power struggle over constitutional reform on the White Earth Reservation could cost longtime tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor her job.”

A new White Earth constitution drafted by Vizenor and the tribal council would have drastically shifted the government structure and changed requirements for tribal membership. When implementation stalled, Vizenor wrote a federal official in the hopes of moving things along, a move critics said overstepped her authority.

Vizenor said critics were just trying to stop reforms.

“The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe has no separation of powers,” she said. “It’s open to corruption. We need change, but they don’t want to lose power.”