Guest Blog on “Scaffold”: A Sacred Call for Deconstructing Oppression

Karen Hering is a consulting literary minister for Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul and writes a blog called: “Writing to Wake the Soul.” She wrote a powerful reflection on the removal of “Scaffold” from the Walker Sculpture Garden. It is republished here by permission.

Taking It Down: A Sacred Call for Deconstructing Oppression

A crowd gathered for a Dakota healing ceremony.

On June 2, 2017, over 300 people gathered in downtown Minneapolis on the grounds of the Walker Art Museum’s redesigned sculpture garden, not quite finished and not yet opened, to witness the ceremonial deconstruction of an installation titled “Scaffold.” Designed by artist Sam Durant, “Scaffold” was modeled after a gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota in 1862, the largest public execution in the history of the U.S.. A week before the planned reopening of the sculpture garden, the Walker engaged Dakota elders in a conversation about “Scaffold” and its possible impact on local audiences. Protests immediately called for its removal, and within one week, the Walker had postponed the garden’s reopening, participated in an independently mediated conversation with Dakota elders and the artist, and agreed to dismantle the installation in a public ceremony planned and led by Dakota elders.  Other posts on-line offer more information about the sculpture and its deconstruction.  

This reflection is based on my experience of the June 2 ceremony, with the hope of sharing the sorrow, the power and the call of that day’s events. The quotes are all from Sheldon Wolfchild’s opening words, delivered before the sacred ceremony began (which we were asked not to record out of respect). The wooden structure required four days to dismantle; the “Scaffold’s” understructure of steel and cement was then broken down by the Walker and also removed.  

Taking It Down: a sacred call for deconstructing oppression

June 2, 2017: It is a hot summer’s day. Sun high in the blue sky. A crowd of over 300 gathers, a drum beats, a song thrums. Sheldon Wolfchild, Dakota elder from the Lower Sioux Agency, addresses the crowd. He says:

This is a sacred process…. Let us remember what this historical truth has brought us.

Behind him a newly constructed wooden scaffold looms. Unlike the gallows built in Mankato in the dead of winter 155 years earlier, after which it is modeled, this one is solid and built to last. Its beams are treated to withstand all weather, its foundation is cement, its invisible supports made of steel. The photos of it published in the previous week do not begin to represent its ominous presence and menacing energy. Wolfchild continues:

This is a sacred process to dismantle negativity. Let us all work together in one prayer from the heart, not the mind, as our elders say. Continue reading

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… 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

Dakota Elders Support Rematriation of Sacred Red Rock, In-Yan Sa, to Wakan Tipi

Wolfchild talks about In-Yan Sa.

In-Yan Sa, the sacred red rock of the Dakota people should be moved to Wakan Tipi (also known as Carver’s Cave), one of the Dakota people’s sacred sites, Dakota elders say.

Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota/Lower Sioux) has been leading Dakota efforts to “rematriate” the rock. (Rematriation because the rock is part of Mother Earth.) He visited Dakota elders in South Dakota and North Dakota to speak about the Red Rock and get their feedback. “This is an apolitical process,” Wolfchild said. “It is the elders who are in charge of our sacred sites and objects.”

The elders gave a positive response, and backed plans to move In-Yan Sa to Wakan Tipi.  Wolfchild announced the elders support at a meeting of Dakota elders and allies on Saturday at All My Relations Gallery.

In-Yan Sa used to reside near the Mississippi River near the Dakota village of Kaposia. United Methodist missionaries took the rock after the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862. The rock became a symbol of their church camps. The rock now sits outside Newport United Methodist Church, and calls have been growing from Dakota people for its return.

Bruce R. Ough, the Bishop for the United Methodist Church in Minnesota, agreed earlier this year to restore In-Yan Sa to the Dakota people. While that was a significant milestone, that commitment required serious conversation within both the Minnesota Annual Conference of the UMC and the Dakota community about next steps. Continue reading

Dakota Elders to Meet to Discuss Return of “In-Yan Sha” (the Sacred Red Rock) to the Dakota People

Sign next to In-Yan Sha in front of Newport United Methodist Church.

On Saturday, May 13, Dakota traditional spiritual elders will gather to discuss the return of In-Yan Sha (the sacred Red Rock) to the Dakota people. The meeting will include a discussion of In-Yan Sha’s history and an announcement of the sacred site where the elders would like In-Yan Sha placed.

This meeting will be open to the public with limited seating. It will take place from 1:30 – 5:00 p.m. at All My Relations Gallery, 1414 East Franklin Ave., Minneapolis. Those are welcome who come with a good heart, and with respect for the elders, In-Yan Sha, and Dakota sacred sites.

In-Yan Sha is connected to the Dakota origin story. Methodist settlers took the rock in the 1800s; it became a symbol for the Methodist church camp. The seizure of the Red Rock is one symbol of how settler culture tried to assimilate and erase Dakota culture and religion. The rock has moved several times, and now resides in front of the Newport United Methodist Church (UMC). Bishop Bruce R. Ough of the UMC Minnesota Conference has expressed his interest in returning the rock; efforts have started to do this healing work in a good way.

Continue reading

Methodist Bishop Commits to Returning Sacred Red Rock to the Dakota People

Sign next to Eyah Shaw in front of Newport United Methodist Church. (Photo from the Church’s website.)

The Bishop of the United Methodist Church (UMC) in Minnesota, Bruce R. Ough, has committed to restoring Eyah Shaw — the sacred red rock — to the Dakota people. (In Dakota, Eyah means “rock” and Shaw means “red.”)

Before settlers arrived, Eyah Shaw was on the east bank of the Mississippi River several miles south of what is now St. Paul. Filmmaker and researcher Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota) says Eyah Shaw is a sacred relative to Dakota people and deeply connected to their creation story. Dakota people traditionally would paint the boulder-sized rock with red stripes.

Early settlers saw the boulder as a significant landmark and began referring to the area simply as Red Rock. Red Rock’s early missionaries were Methodists. In the 1860s they purchased several acres of land to create a camp meeting; the religious gathering became synonymous with the Red Rock. While the camp — and the rock — have moved since that time, the name stuck. Red Rock Camp still exists today near Paynesville.

The rock itself now resides outside the Newport UMC, with local historic designation.

Wolfchild said the Dakota people had other sacred rocks in the area, but settlers destroyed them. He has thanked the UMC for protecting Eyah Shaw, but says it is now time for the rock to come home to its people. Continue reading

Local Methodists to Address Doctrine of Discovery; Mde Maka Ska Community Conversation; Renaming the Jeffers Petroglyphs; Creation Stories Film Screening

Upcoming Events

  • Screening of the documentary: Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code. Come see the film and join the post-film discussion. The film is being hosted by the United Methodist Church, and Bruce Ough, the UMC Bishop for Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota will attend. (March 16)
  • Mde Maka Ska Community Conversation: Following the Sacred Current of Water (March 22)
  • Minnesota Historical Society to hold public meeting on renaming and reinterpreting the Jeffers Petroglyphs. (March 25)
  • Walker Film Series INDIgenesis: Indigenous Filmmakers, Past and Present. (Runs through March 25.)
  • Screening of Dakota Creation Stories film. (March 26)

Details follow.

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Minneapolis City Council to Declare Oct. 10, 2016 “Coldwater Springs Protection and Preservation Day”, Pipe Ceremony Planned

Coldwater Springs (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Coldwater Springs (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Minneapolis City Council is expected to pass a resolution this Friday that will declare Oct. 10 Coldwater Springs Protection and Preservation Day. Everyone is invited to attend a pipe ceremony and celebration at Coldwater Springs on Indigenous Peoples Day, Monday, Oct. 10, starting at noon.

The resolution was authored by 12th Ward Councilmember Andrew Johnson, whose south Minneapolis district abuts Coldwater Springs, which is in on unincorporated Hennepin County land. The springs are located just east of the intersection of Hiawatha Avenue and the Crosstown Highway.

Coldwater Springs is near the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers and is sacred to Dakota people, the original people of the area. (The Dakota name for the spring is Mni Owe Sni, which translated means Coldwater Springs.) Camp Coldwater also was the first European-American settlement in the Minnesota Territory; the spring furnished water to Fort Snelling.

The resolution states in part:

That the City of Minneapolis reminds all government agencies to respect the 1805 treaty and honor both the spirit and the letter of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 and the 2001 state law relating to protection and preservation of Coldwater Springs.

Click here for the full text of the Coldwater Springs Resolution.

Those expected to speak on behalf of the resolution at the Minneapolis City Council meeting Friday include: Sheldon Wolfchild of the Lower Sioux Reservation, Sharon Lennartson, chair of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Tribal Community, and Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of the American Indian Movement.

Wolfchild will conduct the pipe ceremony at Coldwater Springs on Monday. Lennartson and Bellecourt are expected to speak, too. Coffee and cookies to follow. Bring family and friends!

For more on the First Amendment and treaty issues surrounding Coldwater Springs, read on.

Continue reading