Capitol Art Update: Adding New Art; Lessons from Maine

Phase II of the Minnesota Capitol art debate is about to get underway. Let’s hope it is more productive than Phase I.

As readers of this blog know, Phase I involved a review of the existing art, including major pieces with offensive images of Native Americans and mythologized views of early Minnesota history. In spite of requests to move offensive art, the Art Subcommittee charged with making recommendations is proposing rearranging a few paintings inside the Capitol, a very disappointing result.

Phase II involves deciding what new art — and new stories — to add to the Minnesota State Capitol and where it should be displayed. That conversation kicks off at the next Art Subcommittee meeting tomorrow, Friday, May 6, 10 a.m.-noon, at the Minnesota Judicial Center, G-6.

There is not much more to say on the topic just yet, so let’s return to our review of art in other state Capitols to see what lessons they might hold. Today, we check out the state of Maine, which offers a couple of important lessons about Capitol art. Continue reading

Upcoming Events in Native Film, Theater, Literature, Pow Wows, Food and Dialogue

Happy Spring! April is blooming with many learning opportunities, in Native film, theater, Pow Wows and talks. Here are a dozen to choose from (starting with April Eve).

Thursday, March 31: Settler Colonialism and Justice After Indigenous Genocide. “This presentation will discuss Indigenous erasure as an inherent part of Settler colonialism, and Settler colonialism as an ongoing phenomenon in Minnesota – one that brings the genocide of Dakota Peoples out of the past and into the present: as acts of non-recognition, denial, assimilation, and marginalization,” according to the Facebook announcement.

  • East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, St. Paul, 7 p.m.

Continue reading

Tribes Tell State to Remove Racist Capitol Art; Native Art Galleries to Offer Alternative Vision

Shelly Buck, president of the Prairie Island Indian Community, has come out with a strongly worded statement about what should happen with the racist art in the state Capitol. In a March 16 opinion piece in the Star Tribune, the headline says it all: Minnesotans, it’s time to move offensive art out of the people’s house.

The article was written with support from the Lower Sioux Indian Community, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Upper Sioux Community and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Buck’s letter came in response to the anemic initial recommendations put forward by the Art Subcommittee of the Minnesota State Capitol Preservation Commission. Continue reading

Art Subcommittee’s Slouch Towards the Status Quo

The Subcommittee delivered its preliminary report to the State Capitol Preservation Commission on Feb. 23, and we already offered our initial critique in our Feb. 25. blog. The Art Subcommittee met again Friday March 4, and continued to demonstrate some odd gravitational attraction to the status quo.

1. The Subcommittee is voluntarily limiting its review and recommendations on Capitol art, apparently concerned about controversy and political push back: The Subcommittee’s preliminary recommendations have already stated that:

Certain areas are not subject to consideration: While some Minnesotans have raised concerns regarding the fine art work within the House and Senate Chambers, the Subcommittee defers to those bodies to determine art content within legislative Chambers.

Leaders, notably Tri-Chair Paul Anderson, appear worried that recommending changes to the House or Senate art would be opposed by House and Senate leaders. On Friday, the Subcommittee reported it had received a letter from Supreme Court Justice Laurie Gildea asking that the Supreme Court be given similar discretion over art decisions in its chambers. [The letter is not yet publicly available.] The Subcommittee didn’t take action but seemed to be leaning towards including the Supreme Court Chambers in the “Hands Off” category.

Comment: This is a sign of timidity. Facing a once-in-a-century decision, the Subcommittee wants to avoid controversy.

2. In a stunning new development, the Subcommittee now wants talk to Tim Pawlenty, Jesse Ventura and other ex-Governors to see what they think of the art. The biggest recommendation to come out of the Subcommittee is a proposal to move two controversial paintings out of the Governor’s Reception Room to some other spot in the Capitol, one of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and the other of Father Hennepin “Discovering” the Falls at St. Anthony. Why did the Subcommittee feel too squeamish to make a recommendation about House and Senate art but feel free to weigh in on the Governor’s Conference Room? Because Governor Dayton asked them to make a recommendation. Now enters Sen. Richard Cohen, a Subcommittee member making his first committee appearance. He notes that any recommended changes will have a long lasting impact and asks the Subcommittee to take into account the thoughts of past governors. The Subcommittee agrees.

Comment: So the solution is to ask old white men for more advice. To be clear, Wendall Anderson, Al Quie, Arne Carlson, Pawlenty and Ventura all had the opportunity to propose changes to the art when they were in office and did not. They also could have participated in the recent public review process. They did not. This latest proposal from Cohen has the appearance of trying to slow down the minimal change that is moving forward.

3. Subcommittee leadership is downplaying Governor Dayton’s request for change: The Subcommittee’s report recommends leaving all four Civil War paintings in the Governor’s Reception Room. Dayton was clear at the Feb. 23 meeting of the State Capitol Preservation Commission that he was not comfortable with that decision, freezing Minnesota history in the 19th Century. At the March 4 Art Subcommittee meeting, Anderson characterized Dayton’s comment as “a mild suggestion, not a mandate.”

Comment: Dayton’s concerns were more than “a mild suggestion.” The entire discussion around Capitol art started at a 2013 Capitol Preservation Commission meeting when Governor Dayton questioned whether they needed to have Civil War art dominate the Reception Room. At the Feb. 23 hearing, Dayton repeated his concerns: “The war should certainly be honored … but to say that is all we have in our history … I think it is very unrepresentative.” At a follow-up press conference, he went on to say that: “I am very uncomfortable being in there and having that be the presentation.” Anderson’s summary of Dayton’s comments appear to reflect Anderson’s preference for the status quo more than Dayton’s actual opinions.

4. Anderson sees minimal media attention as a good sign, but there are other interpretations: Anderson noted that the media paid little attention to the Subcommittee’s preliminary report to the State Capitol Preservation Commission. His conclusion was it was a sign of “a job well done” and “a balanced report.”

Comment: The other possible explanation is that there was so little significant change in the recommendations that the media didn’t think it merited a story.

5. A key part of the Art Subcommittee recommendations is that the Capitol art get better historic interpretation — but that might be more wish than reality. The preliminary report states:

Robust interpretation of works of art and other public programs in the Capitol will require funding that would be both one-time and ongoing. We recommend that this funding should be provided.

Sen. Cohen, the Senate Finance Chair, told the Art Subcommittee that the budget forecast was “disquieting” and it should not count on additional money for interpretation.

Comment: This means we could have a plan to keep offensive and racist art in the Capitol and justify that decision because it will have better interpretation … and then not fund the interpretation. That is a bad outcome, preserving the status quo.

Next Up:

The Subcommittee will have conversations in April about the implications of the Minnesota State Capitol being listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and other possible regulatory restrictions. (It seems odd that this conversation didn’t happen earlier in the process.)

The Final Report is expected in early September, but any delays could create problem with implementing recommendations. Once the Subcommittee finishes its report, it has to go to the State Capitol Preservation Commission for approval. And then the changes needed to be implemented while the clock is ticking to reopen the Capitol. It will reopen in stages. The main part is supposed to be ready to open in January 2017 for the start of the legislative session.

U.K. Lawmakers to NFL: Nix the Redsk*ns London Game, and Other Weekend Reading

Weekend News Wrap

U.K. Leaders Oppose NFL Plans to Have the Redsk*ns Play in London

The International Business Times and other media outlets have reported that two British Members of Parliament have told the NFL they oppose plans to have the Washington Redsk*ns play a game Oct. 30 in London. They told “NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that they don’t want a team named after a racial slur playing at Wembley Stadium,” the story said. Labor Party MP’s Ruth Smeeth and Ian Austin wrote Godell Feb. 2. Continue reading

Art and Our Relationship to the Environment: Images from the State Capitol

Walk into the Minnesota State Capitol rotunda and look up.

Civilization of the Northwest, part 1
Civilization of the Northwest, part 1: Hope and Wisdom

This is one of four paintings you will see. We’ve written a fair amount in this blog about the Capitol art and how it portrays American Indians and early Minnesota history. We now turn to a related theme, looking at art with a strong message about our relationship to the environment.

The four rotunda paintings  collectively are called “The Civilization of the Northwest.” (At one point, the Minnesota Territory represented the Northwestern part of the United States, hence the name.) In contrast to the Native American concept of Mother Earth as a relative, these images paint a picture of the earth as a resource to be cultivated and the environment as something to be controlled. Continue reading

Breaking News: Art Subcommittee to Recommend Moving Controversial Paintings Out of Governor’s Reception Room

This painting of Father Hennepin is the most troubling to Minnesota tribes. A key committee is recommending it be moved out of the Governor's Conference Room.
This painting of Father Hennepin could be moved from the Governor’s Reception Room and become part of a centralized Capitol collection of Native American-themed art with better historic interpretation.

The paintings of Father Hennepin Discovering St. Anthony Falls and the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux would both be removed from the Minnesota Governor’s Reception Room and relocated elsewhere in the Capitol, under recommendations approved today by a key committee.

The recommendation fell short of the hopes of many Native leaders, who had hoped to move it out of the Capitol into a museum. Still, Subcommittee member Gwen Westerman, who is Dakota, said she was satisfied with the results. “In my mind, we have been heard,” said Westerman, a professor at the University of Minnesota-Mankato. “That is a major accomplishment.” Continue reading

Art Exhibit; Upcoming Films; Attack Dogs; and This Day in History

Sinew: Female Native Artists of the Twin Cities

A new art exhibit is opening called Sinew: Female Native Artists of the Twin Cities, aimed at “increasing the visibility and recognition of the strength, vigor, power, and resilience of Native American women and their important contribution to the arts, our communities, our families, and our world.”

The exhibit is being shown at Artistry, 1800 West Old Shakopee Road in Bloomington. They will have an opening reception Friday, Feb. 12 from 6-8 p.m.  They will hold a panel discussion Tuesday, March 1, at 7 p.m. Artist Dyani White Hawk Polk curated the show. Continue reading

Paiutes To Feds: Deal With the “Bad Men”; Talk: Indigenous Re-Naming; On Air: Indian Rights Attorney Levanthal; This Day in History: Termination Policy Comes to MN

In a story headlined: Oregon Militia Nuts Hold Paiute History, Artifacts Hostage, Indian Country Today reports on the Burns Paiute Tribe’s deep concern that militants are holding a building with “approximately 4,000 artifacts belonging to the tribe.” According to the story:

The tribe is demanding federal action under both the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 and a “protection against bad men” provision in the treaty the tribe signed with the United States in 1868.

That seems like a reasonable enough request.

Red Power Media has reported on the militants counter offensive, posting a You Tube video of them sorting through boxes of artifacts. They argue that the federal government has mishandled the artifacts, and offer to return them to the Paiute people.

Click on the links above for more details.

Mato Nunpa to Speak on Reclaiming Indigenous Names

When European explorers and settlers came to this area, one of the first things they did was to rename the rivers, hills and and other landmarks that already had indigenous names. Dr. Chris Mato Nunpa, a Dakota elder and historian, will lead off the 2016 Series “What’s in a Name?” for St. Paul’s East Side Freedom Library, talking about the need to reclaim original names.

Mato Nunpa’s talk is called: “The Case for Indigenous Renaming: Acknowledging Minnesota Genocide,” and will be held Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. at the East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, St. Paul.

Background: In 2012, both Minneapolis and St. Paul declared 2012 “The Year of the Dakota,” marking the 150th anniversary of the Dakota-U.S. War. The resolutions acknowledged the atrocities and genocide that took place against the Dakota people.

The St. Paul resolution mandated that the city identify, name and interpret sacred Native American sites in St. Paul and along the Mississippi River. Mato Nunpa will present his views on the renaming that still must take place, from the white bluffs below Indian Mounds Park to the streets and places that still bear the names of Alexander Ramsey, Henry Sibley and John C. Calhoun, Euro-American conquerers who were guilty of genocide against the indigenous people of Minnesota.

Indian Rights Attorney Larry Levanthal on KFAI

This week’s First Person Radio show on KFAI features an interview with prominent Indian Country attorney Larry Levanthal.

The show runs 9-10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27. Hear it on 90.3 FM in Minneapolis, or 106.7 FM in St. Paul, or listen on

Levanthal has represented Tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Oklahoma and other states in issues ranging from tribal government operations, gaming, business development, environmental issues, and litigation.  He currently serves as legal counsel to several American Indian Tribes. He will talk about the Indian Child Welfare Act and a range of tribal topics

First Person Radio is hosted by Laura Watterman Wittstock and Roy Taylor.

This Day in History: MN U.S. Senator Tries to End Federal Recognition of Dakota Communities

Within the lifetime of the Baby Boomers, the federal government was not only trying to unilaterally break individual treaties, but it was trying to make treaties and tribes disappear altogether, including right here in Minnesota.

We have written recently of the federal “Termination Policies,” efforts to end the sovereignty of tribal governments. On this day in history in 1955, those policies surfaced in Minnesota in an effort to officially terminate the Upper Sioux, Lower Sioux, and Prairie Island communities. (The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community was not officially recognized until 1969.) Wikipedia gives this summary:

On 26 January 1955 Senator Edward Thye introduced into Congress a bill (S704) to provide for termination of the tribes. Opposition, not only of the Indians, but of other citizens who realized their state expenses might increase, were made to the committee reviewing the bill. The Governor’s Commission on Human Rights also opposed the legislation, indicating that it would “not adequately protect the interests of the Indians…” The bill died in committee, never reaching the Senate floor.


Columbus Monument in Disrepair: Will it Get State Money?; MN Tribe Wants Elk Restored; Abandoned Uranium Mines a Health Threat to Natives

We have dedicated quite a bit of space this blog critiquing art inside the Minnesota State Capitol, adding only a few passing posts on the outdoor monuments. It was a pragmatic choice. The state-appointed Art Subcommittee has driven the debate around Capitol art, and it’s focused on art inside the Capitol. Its recommendations will not include outdoor statues.
Now comes a story from Minnesota Public Radio headlined: Time takes toll on historical markers at Capitol, which reminds us of the roughly two dozen memorials and markers on the Capitol grounds. Two of the more controversial monuments honor  Christopher Columbus (Idle No More Twin Cities has called for its removal) and the statue to former Minnesota Governor, U.S. Representative and Senator Knute Nelson (a key player in federal policies that stripped Ojibwe people of land and resources). Both statues have prominent locations: Columbus on the Capitol’s east lawn and Nelson on the Capitol’s front steps.

Continue reading