The Kansas City Chiefs name represents a form of cultural appropriation, but the backstory is more bizarre than you think

The Washington football team has received considerable criticism over the years for its offensive name, and deservedly so. Less well known is the story behind how the Kansas City NFL franchise got the name “Chiefs,” and its ties to Boy Scout history.

There are several versions of the story, but one consistent thread in the telling is that the team is  named after a white man who appropriated Native traditions for the Boy Scouts — and who went by the nickname “Chief.”

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Separating Native American Art from “American Art” in Museums: Part of Our Tangled History

Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) curators and Native American artists are wrestling with some powerful questions:

  • Why are American art and Native American art separated in museums and not taught together?
  • How would their entangled history and legacy be better understood if placed side by side?
  • What challenges or cultural issues provide arguments for keeping them distinct?
  • What can museum curators do to best showcase Native American Art in their institutions?

These questions have sparked a collaborative presentation on “Native American Art as American Art,” Thursday, Feb. 8, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Mia, 2400 3rd Avenue S. Minneapolis. ($10 fee, $5 for Mia members and free for Native American community members.)

Panelists are:

  • Film Director G. Peter Jemison, who represents the Seneca Nation of Indians on repatriation issues. He was the founding director of the American Indian Community House Gallery in New York City.
  • Kathleen Ash-Milby, a member of the Navajo Nation, and Associate Curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in New York.
  • Robert Cozzolino, the Patrick and Aimee Butler Curator of Paintings at Mia.
  • Jill Ahlberg Yohe, Associate Curator of Native American Art at Mia.

Members of Native American communities register by calling 612-870-3286, or email tmiller@artsmia.org with your name.

Others register by calling 612-870-6323 or online at https://tickets.artsmia.org/

Oyate Hotanin hosts a traditional storyteller and community conversation at the Mia

[Update: The headline and parts of this blog have been updated after the Mia requested corrections and clarifications. First, it’s Oyate Hotanin that is organizing this event, the Mia is hosting it by  providing the space. It is part of the Mia’s broader mission: to “create a space that welcomes Native people, and hold events that get Native people interested in attending.” Second,  the Mia wanted it known this isn’t a conversation about Scaffold, “this conversation is about the state of Native American art within Western Institutions,” and the Mia is in no way making a statement “directly against the Walker and the Scaffold incident.”]

The following announcement was posted on the Minnesota Indian List Serve:

Free Event
Friday, Jan. 26, 6-8 p.m.
Minneapolis Institute of Art
2400 3rd Ave. S. Minneapolis

Indigenous Estate [Oyate Hotanin] is the community response to the scaffold placed by the Walker in the sculpture garden and multiple incidents of invisibility and disregard of Native artists, narratives and images.

It is a series of conversations to engage community around the questions: Who governs identity and cultural appropriation? How do we navigate authenticity versus censorship? What is art in this reality? What is the role of the art world in responding? Is the art world complicit?

Join us for a reception at MIA with traditional storyteller Colin Wesaw.  We invite you to join the conversation and shape this vision with us.

Oyate Hotanin Indigenous Estate Leadership Team

Nick Metcalf, Heidi Inman, Al Gross, Crystal Norcross, Thomas LaBlanc, Laura LaBlanc, Cindy Killion

Applause for Dakota Elders’ Leadership in Taking Down “Scaffold”; Questions Remain about Cultural Appropriation

Signs of anger and hurt were hung on the chain link fence around the Sculpture Garden during the controversy

An unacknowledged aspect of the controversy around the Walker Sculpture Garden’s Scaffold is the Dakota elders’ leadership in resolving the conflict.

Consider the context. All native people have lived with generations of shame and humiliation from the broader society, from Indian mascots to boarding schools and broken treaties.

In this context, the Walker begins to erect the massive Scaffold, depicting several historic gallows. The most prominent feature replicates the gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato in 1862. Neither the Walker nor Sam Durant, the artist, thought to talk to Dakota leaders. The sculpture is not only a painful reminder of their worst moment in history, it also shows they are invisible to the broader community, powerless to affect these decisions.

That’s a heavy burden. Yes, there was anger and hurt in the Dakota community. But in the end, Dakota elders led a healing ceremony with all parties in the circle.

Some have praised Durant and the Walker for agreeing to mediation and ultimately the sculpture’s removal. Yes, Durant and the Walker did the right thing — but they were fixing problems of their own making.

In the typical narrative, the Dakota are portrayed as aggrieved victims. It needs to be stated clearly: the Dakota elders were exemplary leaders.  They spoke of bringing “positive energy” to the Garden. The Dakota had no institutional power. Their power and leadership came from their moral authority on this issue, which resonated with many of us in the community, both Native and non-Native peoples.

We will have to wait and see what emerges from the Dakota-Walker collaboration moving forward. Meanwhile, there remain important issues to reflect upon. One is how to talk about cultural appropriation, the other is removing the veil of the dominant narrative and acknowledging the leadership Dakota elders brought to the table. Continue reading

“Scaffold” Sculptor Apologizes to Dakota People

The “Scaffold” sculpture viewed from behind the Spoon and Cherry.

Sam Durant, the artist who made the controversial “Scaffold” sculpture, has issued an apology to the Dakota people.

The Walker Art Center bought the sculpture from Durant to include in its revamped Sculpture Garden, due to reopen in June. The artwork was a commentary on capital punishment, its defining feature a replica of the gallows that hung 38 Dakota men in Mankato in 1862 following the Dakota-U.S. War. The Walker did not include Dakota people at all in this process. When it started to be installed, it triggered shock and protest from Dakota people and their allies. The sculpture is going to be removed.

The story has made national headlines. The L.A. Times posted a story Saturday headlined: Sculpture of a gallows by L.A. artist in Minneapolis may be removed after Native American outcry.

Durant is coming to the Twin Cities to be part of discussions between the Walker Art Center and Dakota elders. His apology reads in part:

Scaffold opens the difficult histories of the racial dimension of the criminal justice system in the United States, ranging from lynchings to mass incarceration to capital punishment. In bringing these troubled and complex histories of national importance to the fore, it was my intention not to cause pain or suffering, but to speak against the continued marginalization of these stories and peoples, and to build awareness around their significance. …

I made Scaffold as a learning space for people like me, white people who have not suffered the effects of a white supremacist society and who may not consciously know that it exists. It has been my belief that white artists need to address issues of white supremacy and its institutional manifestations. Whites created the concept of race and have used it to maintain dominance for centuries, whites must be involved in its dismantling. However, your protests have shown me that I made a grave miscalculation in how my work can be received by those in a particular community. In focusing on my position as a white artist making work for that audience I failed to understand what the inclusion of the Dakota 38 in the sculpture could mean for Dakota people. I offer my deepest apologies for my thoughtlessness. I should have reached out to the Dakota community the moment I knew that the sculpture would be exhibited at the Walker Art Center in proximity to Mankato.

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

Rosebud Youth Take Action After Carlisle Visit; Lawsuit Over Commercial Use of “Navajo”; Pow Wow Saturday

An article in Indian Country Today tells an important story of Rosebud Reservation youth learning about historical trauma and becoming stronger from it. The story is headlined: Bring Them Home’: Rosebud Sioux Seeking Return of Relatives Buried at Carlisle. It tells how youth are taking a leadership role to bring home the remains of their young relatives who died in a boarding school. According to the story:

… the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council of Rosebud, South Dakota, passed a resolution to bring home the remains of several Lakota children buried at Carlisle after hearing an impassioned presentation by the members of the Defending Childhood Initiative Youth Council …

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