… And “Scaffold” Came Tumbling Down

A crowd gathered at the Walker Sculpture Garden for a Dakota healing ceremony.

Several hundred people today attended a Dakota-led healing ceremony at the Walker Sculpture Garden to mark the beginning of the deconstruction of “Scaffold.”

The event began outside the temporary chain link fence surrounding the Sculpture Garden. Speakers included Art Owen of the Prairie Island Dakota Community and Sheldon Wolfchild of the Lower Sioux Indian Community.

“This is a negative energy up here that we are feeling at this moment,” Wolfchild said. “The spiritual elders have said the sooner we take down the scaffold, the sooner we get rid of negative energy.”

Wolfchild said Scaffold was a symbol of domination and dehumanization that has affected all First Nations peoples across the country. “So this symbol of taking down negative energy that was brought here — to justify the means of taking our original land and our spiritual belief system — will now end.”

Art Owen (Prairie Island) and Sheldon Wolfchild (Lower Sioux) spoke before the ceremony.

Scaffold was to be part of the upcoming Grand Reopening of the Sculpture Garden, but it was quickly engulfed in controversy. The artwork depicts several historic gallows, most prominently the gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato in 1862. It was the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Neither the artist nor the Walker thought to ask Dakota people for their reaction. When the sculpture started going up, that reaction came fast. The Walker and the artist Sam Durant have both issued public apologies for not being aware of how this would affect the Dakota community.

Straight Line Construction, a Native-owned business, volunteered to do the deconstruction. Louis Peters of Lower Sioux spoke at today’s ceremony on behalf of the crew: “The main thing I need to communicate is how glad and grateful we are to have our community here, to have all of you people here, for your prayers and your support as we start this process.”

Stephanie Hope Smith, the neutral mediator in this process, gave a brief update, saying today’s ceremony would be the last “media moment” at the Walker related to Scaffold. “This is closure,” she said.

The chain link fence was opened so people could gather next the sculpture for a “no cameras, no recording” prayer and sacred ceremony led by Owen. When it finished, the chain saws started. Continue reading