Minnesota Capitol Restoration: The Awe and the Awful

Minnesota State Capitol reopens after renovation, but final touches still being applied.
Minnesota State Capitol reopens after renovation, but final touches are still being applied.

The Minnesota State Capitol reopened for business on Tuesday after being closed for a $300 million renovation. The restoration is ongoing, but the legislature convened and the show must go on.

The Minnesota Historical Society promotion says: “Come visit your shiny new Minnesota State Capitol—refurbished, renovated and restored from top to bottom. Ooh and aah over its gleaming marble, magnificent murals, vibrant paintings and more, all restored to their original 1905 perfection.” Minnesota Public Radio ran a story on the new look Capitol with the headline: The awe is back.

It’s not that simple. There is both new beauty as well as retained historical ugliness. The MPR story included this telling line: “… planners didn’t want to tinker too much with history.”

That’s a shame. There is some history that we should not continue to glorify, such as the denigration and the genocide of Native Americans. Just because the renovation is over, the criticism isn’t. We should not delight in being frozen in 1905. Significantly, some artwork fails to reflect our values, an unacceptable situation in our the state’s most important public building.

Let’s look at the awe and the awful. Continue reading

Yale Football Program Cover Illustrates How Many are Still Blind to Racist Images

Image of historic Dartmouth-Yale Football program reprinted for this year's game.
Image of historic Dartmouth-Yale Football program reprinted for this year’s game.

This is a story about racist images of Native Americans in historic art — and how in many cases the dominant culture sees them as quaintly historic but fails to see that they are still painfully racist.

This current story comes out of Yale University. It points out how even our institutions of higher learning can be blind to the racist messages embedded in artwork.

This past Saturday, the Yale-Dartmouth football game marked the 100th anniversary of the rivalry. To commemorate the event, the Yale Athletic Department printed a special program. I can imagine a group of designers thinking it would be fun to run a collage of historic program covers on the front.

Since Dartmouth’s unofficial mascot used to be the Indian, many of the covers featured images of Indians. (Dartmouth was founded to educate Native American youth, according to an article in the Yale News headlined: Football programs criticized for racist imagery, While that mission was abandoned, Dartmouth kept its Indian mascot until 1974.)

Yale’s commemorative program featured eight historic program covers, of which half were “racially insensitive,” according to the Yale News account. (Click on the link above to see the cover.) The cover included “a bulldog chasing the Native American figure up a tree, while another featured a Yale football player lighting the [Indian] figure’s clothing on fire.” Continue reading

Attack Dogs, Solidarity Action, and Other Dakota Access Pipeline Updates

Attack dogs are a particularly vicious form of crowd control. They are meant to terrorize and intimate, physically and psychologically.

The most recent example of using attack dogs comes from the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Lakota people and their allies are peacefully gathering trying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Pipeline would tunnel under the Missouri River just one mile from their fresh water intake. The project also would cross sacred lands and burial sites.

While the pipeline project was pending in the courts, the pipeline’s backers took a provocative action,  bringing in heavy machinery into an area identified to be an old Native American burial ground.

Those at Standing Rock and their allies responded to try to block the machinery. (While some refer to those at Standing Rock as “protesters” they refer to themselves as “protectors,” a much better term. Protesters has something of a negative cast, and brings up images of trouble makers. Here, people are standing their ground trying to protect their water and their sacred spaces.)

Dakota Access Pipeline backers responded to the standoff by bringing in private security with mace and attack dogs to scare and hurt the protectors. There are a number of image of the dog attacks, but none in the public domain that we can reproduce in our blog. Check out the September 3 blog of Censored News to see some shocking images, and also Common Dreams.

Attack dogs were used against Civil Rights protesters in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, as Healing Minnesota Stories Founder Jim Bear Jacobs pointed out in a recent Facebook post, an image of attack dogs used against Native Americans still is prominently displayed in the Minnesota State Senate Chambers.

Senate mural: "The Discoverers and Civilizers Led to the Source of the Mississippi," one of the more disturbing paintings for its image of forced conversion.
Senate mural: “The Discoverers and Civilizers Led to the Source of the Mississippi.” Note the threatening dogs in the lower left corner behind the priest.

Installed around 1905 at the time of the Capitol’s construction, the mural shows a Catholic priest among a group of so-called “civilizers.” He extends a Cross towards a Native man and woman. (They are depicted in historically inaccurate near nakedness to give the idea that they are uncivilized.) Behind the priest, a man restrains two threatening, snarling dogs. The not-so-subtle message: Accept the Cross or the dogs will be let loose.

After a thorough vetting of art in the Capitol this past year, an Art Subcommittee of prominent state leaders found nothing wrong with this image. The subcommittee’s final report was silent on removing this painting, leaving any changes up to the Senate itself. Apparently Minnesota’s political leaders would rather leave a racist image in place than risk political backlash from a proposed change.

Meanwhile, back in North Dakota, Native peoples are dealing with flesh-and-blood attack dogs. As Jim Bear wrote, the attacks took place “while those who took an oath to protect and serve sat idly by watching.” He continued: “These tactics should not surprise us. They have been celebrated in our government buildings for far too long.”

Let’s look at the attack dog issue from a different angle. Recall that originally, the pipeline was going to cross the Missouri River near Bismarck, N.D. (The New Yorker reported that “authorities worried that an oil spill there would have wrecked the state capital’s drinking water. So they moved the crossing to half a mile from the reservation, across land that was taken from the tribe in 1958, without their consent.”)

Assume for a minute that the Dakota Access Pipeline had stuck with its original route, passing near Bismarck. Ask yourself what would have happened if a number of Bismarck residents had organized a protest against the pipeline? Would the Dakota Access Pipeline’s financial backers brought in security guards with mace and attack dogs against middle class white people? My opinion: No. It was OK to use dogs in Standing Rock because there are still people who believe Indians are less than white people.

It is unlikely the pipeline issue will be resolved anytime soon. After a temporary injunction, a federal judge ruled last week that the pipeline could continue construction. Then the Obama administration intervened to stop it. According to a statement from the Standing Rock youth:

… the Department of the Interior, Department of Justice and the Department of the Army issued a joint statement saying that they would pause construction until they can decide whether they need to reconsider past decisions that have been made regarding the project. In addition, they are asking for tribal consultation in re-evaluating how huge projects get fast-tracked the way the Dakota Access was, and deciding whether new legislation should be introduced to ensure that tribes are included in these decision-making processes moving forward.

In other words: the U.S. government has acknowledged that the manner in which this pipeline was approved was questionable, and should be looked into, and that tribes should be better included in the future.

This is HUGE! We are thrilled, and know that this would never have happened without the support of our allies from across the country and around the world.

Standing Rock youth have an ongoing petition to Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Moveon.org has started a petition titled: Stop the Violence against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that you could consider signing. It opens with the following summary:

By turning their dogs loose on protestors, the security guards hired by Dakota Access, LLC acted in a reckless and inhumane manner. The guards had no uniforms, drove vehicles with out-of-state plates, and appeared to have little or no training. It’s unclear whether or not they’re even licensed to operate in the state.

The North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board must investigate the actions of the private security guards hired by Dakota Access and ensure they are properly trained and licensed to operate in North Dakota.

Local Action Planned Tuesday

The Sierra Club has helped plan more than 150 solidarity events across the country — with thousands of people signed up to attend — to support the Standing Rock Sioux in their courageous stand against the toxic Dakota Access fracked oil pipeline.

In the Twin Cities, there is one event set for Tuesday (tomorrow), Sept. 13, 5 p.m. at Mears Park in St. Paul, 221 5th Street SE in downtown. Click here for more. There also is a vigil scheduled in Northfield starting at 6:15 p.m. tomorrow, Sept. 13, across from the Northfield Post Office, 14 Bridge Square. Click here for more.

Standing Rock Youth Pressure Law Firm to Drop Dakota Access Pipeline as Client

The Twin Cities Daily Planet Community Voices section reported on efforts by Standing Rock youth to get Minneapolis-based law firm Fredrickson & Byron to drop Dakota Access Pipeline LLC as a client.

Court Strikes Down ND Law that Restricted Native American Voting Rights; Other News

With the presidential election getting ever closer, time to look at efforts to restrict the voting rights of Native Americans and other people of color.

North Dakota had the strictest voter ID law in the country, according to the Native American Rights Fund (NARF). In order to vote, the law required North Dakota residents to show one of four types of IDs. According to a NARF media release:

On August 1, 2016, a federal district court enjoined North Dakota’s strict voter ID law and ruled that voters unable to obtain the necessary identification may vote in the upcoming election by completing a declaration or affidavit. The court agreed with the seven Native American voters that the new law disproportionately burdens Native Americans and denies qualified voters the right to vote.

Continue reading

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

Not Surprisingly, Native Voices Held Little Sway in Capitol Art Debate

Native Americans get in a Catch-22 when they are asked to participate in controversial political debates with outside governments. If they don’t participate, they can be criticized for not taking advantage of the process available to them. If they do participate, the powers-that-be can check the box that says “Talked to the Indians.” That gives the final recommendations a little more credibility because the Native Americans were consulted (even though it didn’t have an impact).

For a case study, let’s look at the debate over Minnesota Capitol art.

On Friday, June 17, the Art Subcommittee met for the last time before presenting its final recommendations to the Minnesota State Capitol Preservation Commission. Let’s recap the critical issues of how Native voices were engaged and whether they affected the outcomes. Continue reading

SPNN Interviews Jim Bear Jacobs on Minnesota’s Capitol Art; A Rant on MinnPost’s Flawed Capitol Art Story

Jim Bear Jacobs on SPNN's news show, Forum.
Jim Bear Jacobs on SPNN’s news show, Forum.

An upcoming segment of “Forum,” a news show produced by Saint Paul Neighborhood News (SPNN), will feature Healing Minnesota Stories Founder Jim Bear Jacobs discussing the racist art in the Minnesota State Capitol.

“I just hope that people understand that buildings hold stories,” Jacobs told SPNN Host Sanni Brown-Adefope. “And we need to have our state building — and all of our public buildings — tell a better story for our children.”

The show will air starting Wednesday, June 22, at 5 p.m. on SPNN Channel 19 (Comcast Cable). It will continue airing at 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. (and more) for about a week. It runs about 25 minutes.

The show’s producers gave us an advanced link to the show so you can start watching it now on YouTube. Continue reading