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Farm Bill important to Indian Country
Monday, July 03 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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farm_bill_cover.jpgThe Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) is reminding Indian Country that it needs to work with Congress and naturally allied groups to support programs that cover the entire food chain, from producers to consumers, who are all bunched together under what is called “the farm bill.”

Two researchers with the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (IFAI) at the University of Arkansas School of Law have pulled together all that is at stake for Native people and tribes in a new study, Regaining our Future: An Assessment of Risks and Opportunities for Native Communities in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The SMSC funded study shows how 70 percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture budget most years is used for various feeding, nutrition and food safety programs that affect all Americans and all Native people regardless where they live. The rest of the USDA budget is spread out over conservation, water quality, trade promotion, economic development, insurance and farm income stabilization programs that give the bill its name.

The study was prepared and written by the Initiative’s Janie Simms Hipp (Chickasaw Nation), a former senior advisor for tribal relations to former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Colby D. Duren, the IFAI’s policy director and former staff counsel for the National Congress of American Indians.

Their findings will come as a surprise to many people on the knife, fork and spoon end of the food chain. It happens about every five years when Congress rewrites and updates food, farm, nutrition and related natural resource legislation lumped together under the so-called farm bill.

While access to food and good nutrition is important to all Americans, the Hipp and Duren study stresses that Natives are involved in every step of the food chain from farming and ranching on down, and Natives and tribes are also engaged participants in soil, water and resource protection.

Charles R. Vig, chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, emphasized those linkages in announcing publication of the new study.

“Today a food and nutritional health crisis grips most of Indian Country,” Vig said. “As Congress prepares to shape the next farm bill, there has never been a more critical time for Native Americans to unite to defend our interests.

“Tribal governments, Native producers, environmental stewards and Native community members must work together to involve Congress in helping us solve this crisis,” he added.

Hipp said in an interview that complexities for Native Americans with food and agriculture policies come partly from their own diversity. “Seventy percent of our people now live in urban centers,” she said. “But our land base is rural.”

Meanwhile, she said, this often disconnects Native food producers from urban consumers. “We have always been food producers. Our people need to feed themselves; we need to build out our food system.”

That is a SMSC objective and why it supports urban farming projects, including in the Shakopee and Prior Lake area. That prompted SMSC officials to reach out to Hipp and colleagues at the special Arkansas center more than two years ago.
Hipp said that looking at farm bill legislation title by title, “a lot of people can read the report and see themselves connected to the farm bill. It is ‘the people’s bill’,” she said.

One of the smaller titles in the bill, for promoting American food exports, actually has special importance for Minnesota tribes and Natives entrepreneurs, given the number of special Native foods companies based here. The study calls for including Native foods and companies at all U.S.-led trade promotion tours and conferences.

Much is at stake for the Native Americans and nearly all other Americans whose lives are touched in some way by the farm bill. Pressures are building in Congress to separate the bill between programs for producers and the food, nutrition and safety portions. That would break the coalition that has kept “the people’s bill” as part of public policy for nearly 150 years.

SMSC and Arkansas’ IFAI have allies for getting the report out to tribal leaders and all who are engaged with Native food and health activities. The study’s announcement statement noted Hipp and Duren consulted closely with Intertribal Agriculture Council, Intertribal Timber Council and National Congress of American Indians in preparing the report.       
As for SMSC, supporting pure, or basic research, across the breadth of Indian Country is not new. The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative research project is a continuation of a commitment made in 2015 by the Shakopee Mdewakanton community.

SMSC, the largest Native American philanthropic contributor, launched a $10 million campaign two years ago called Seeds of Native Health to improve Native nutrition and food access through grants. As part of that, it funds research education and “capacity-building efforts,” the tribe explained.

In has partnered in that work with the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, AmeriCorps VISTA, Better Way Foundation (Minneapolis-based foundation supporting child well-being, family and community efforts), the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ Center for Indian Country Development, First Nations Development Institute (Longmont, Colo.), MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger (Los Angeles-based with state programs), Notah Begay III Foundation (Pueblo, N.M. foundation that supports children’s health initiatives), and projects and programs at the University of Arkansas' IFAI and University of Minnesota.

The Regaining Our Future study is available online at SMSC’s Seeds of Native Health site, at .


Courts, Pipelines and Liabilities: Minnesota may want to take note
Monday, July 03 2017
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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“We applaud the courts for protecting our laws and regulations from undue political influence, and will ask the Court to shut down pipeline operations immediately.” – Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II

For the past two weeks, Minnesotans and tribal members have packed  Department of Commerce meetings on the Draft  Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)  on Enbridge  Line 3.  Thousands of people have come to ask questions of the state, in what is a very, very short timetable for a major project.

The DEIS is 5000 pages in length, but under heavy fire as inadequate.  Four tribal governments have intervened in the process: Red Lake Nation intervened in mid June, Fond du Lac, White Earth and Mille Lacs all have filed as intervenors.

rose.jpgome huge questions loom. Enbridge, for instance, has stated that it will take over $l.2 billion to remove the aging Line 3 with all the “leaks and anomalies.” But they have not stated  who will pay for this or how much more it might cost if we were to clean up the “legacy contamination” under the line.  

At all meetings, people (Native and non-Native) have asked why the Ojibwe communities should be sacrificed for a Canadian tar sands pipeline, when the tar sands industry is on its last breath.     

The final DEIS is scheduled to be out in the fall and the pipeline’s certificate of need (what they need to begin construction) could be issued by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission  as early as April of next year. At a St. Paul press conference in June,  Minnesota State Representatives Mary Konesh Podien – flanked by others, including Frank Hornstein, John Marty and Karen Clark – challenged the adequacy of the state’s draft environmental impact statement and asked for a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on pipeline abandonment, prior to any new pipeline approvals.

The EIS is on a very fast track to keep with Enbridge’s convenience, and a Pawlenty imposed deadline. In comparison, the state of New York took seven years to review proposals for fracking, before the moratorium was issued. A federal  ban on lead shot took decades for review.

“Complex decisions take time,” Honor the Earth Attorney Frank Bibeau said, “particularly when there are thousands of comments as to the inadequacy of the EIS, and huge regional and global implications. The interests of Minnesota citizens require due diligence in review by policy makers.”

In the meantime, two major legal cases, may impact significantly on the state’s liability and Minnesota’s future.

In mid June, Michigan’s Attorney General filed new charges of involuntary manslaughter against five officials in the Flint Water Crisis investigation, among them the head of Michigan’s Health Department.

Michigan indictments on state negligence have resulted in l3 charges for state officials who “did not act to protect the interests of Flint citizens.” The city of Flint, Michigan came to international attention when their drinking water system collapsed. “The Flint Water Crisis was and is a failure of leadership”, a report issued by Michigan Attorney General Bull Schuette notes.   “... A cause of the breakdown in state management was a fixation, a preoccupation with data, finance and costs instead of placing the health, safety and welfare of citizens first.”

“Michigan’s example may be a forewarning to Minnesota public officials. In particular, drinking water issues are already a concern in many northern tribal communities, and new threats will likely exacerbate those conditions,” Bibeau said.

Meanwhile, the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) continues to be challenged.  Federal Judge James Boarsberg (DC)   ruled in June that approval permits issued by the Trump administration violated the law in certain critical respects.

According to attorneys at Earth Justice, “The Court did not determine whether pipeline operations should be shut off and has requested additional briefing on the subject and a status conference on June 21…” 

The Standing Rock Tribe responded. “We applaud the courts for protecting our laws and regulations from undue political influence,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II, “and will ask the Court to shut down pipeline operationsimmediately.”

The legal case involves similar issues to that of the proposed Line 3, particularly with regards to the environmental injustice of setting a pipeline near tribal people instead of near a white community, as was originally planned. DAPL was rerouted to be directly north of the Standing Rock reservation so as not to impact the city of Bismarck. 

The Minnesota Department of Commerce notes that the tribal community bears the largest impact of this proposed project:, despite route alternatives.  At Evidentiary Hearings,  Enbridge  leadership testified that the route through tribal lands was the least risk to the broader society. Not that different than DAPL. The DEIS also notes, “… A finding of ‘disproportionate and adverse impacts’ does not preclude selection of any given alternative.” 

As Earth Justice explains, “The Obama administration made a carefully considered decision that these Treaty Rights needed to be respected in connection with an oil pipeline immediately upstream of the reservation. The Trump administration ignored that advice, and acted as if the Tribe does not exist.”

In short, the Michigan indictments of State and County officials, and the Standing Rock federal court decision could have serious implications for Enbridge’s future in the region. As tribal governments line up on the side of their people, state and northern county officials might be cautious about those oaths of office. It seems that Michigan’s Attorney General found out the hard way that oaths were to serve the public. Northern counties and state may want to review their oaths of office in the face of massive pressure by a Canadian pipeline company.   

First Person Productions Goes Entrepreneurial
Thursday, June 01 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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migizi1.jpgA multimedia training program for Native American youth in the Twin Cities is taking a large step forward and becoming a competitive media production company serving a variety of clients in the metro area.

Since the beginning of this year, First Person Productions is attempting to be a self-sustaining and competitive multimedia production company, said Binesikwe Means, the program and company’s media team leader.

First Person Productions, 1516 East Lake Street, Minneapolis,  and its parent nonprofit organization, MIGIZI Communications, works with about 50 high school and middle school students each year.

Now, some of these students are becoming employees and work and learn by producing promotional videos, various training and educational media, public service announcements (PSAs), documentaries, radio programs and podcasts, and advertising and brand promotions that use audiovisual products.

Means said there are currently seven high school students at First Person Productions during after school hours. They are students at Roosevelt, South and Washburn high schools in Minneapolis and Harding High School in St. Paul. Enrollment is larger during the summer months.

For some, the training program is introductory to learn about multimedia and audio-visual equipment and discover one’s own interests. “I’d say it is a hobby for me now,” said Iliana Zephier (Yankton Dakota), a student at Roosevelt High School. “But who knows.”

For others it is clearly an attempt to access equipment, training and learn about their own talents and interests that may lead to post-secondary studies and artistic and business careers emerging as great 21st Century opportunities, said Means (Oglala Lakota).
That is where training and working in a real business environment share the same road leading to potential opportunities ahead. With any form of multimedia, communications and journalism, she said. “They will (also) need to know the business.”

Means worked for six years at In Progress, the nonprofit digital arts training program based in St. Paul, before joining First Person Productions in December to prepare for the latter’s expansion as an entrepreneurial company in multimedia production.

First Person Production is off and running by tailoring products and services for diverse clients. These services include filming and documenting events, making one to two-minute PSAs, talk show documentation, promotional spots, 30 to 90-minute commercials, training videos, documentaries, editing and DVD production services, and fundraising videos usable for groups involved with the annual MN Give to the Max Day.

Native, health and educational groups are among the company’s initial clients.

Some include programs for Minneapolis Public Schools, the Indian Health Board, elder interviews for the Minnesota Historical Society, Center for School Change, Minneapolis Department of Health, Achieve Minneapolis, American Indian Cancer Foundation, and the Indigenous Peoples Task Force.

Some are nonprofit organizations that also seek to be viable entrepreneurial organizations as well, like First Person Productions. They would include Mixed Blood Theater, New Native Theater, and Running Wolf Fitness Center.

Still others have ties to the Native communities through philanthropic work. Among them are the Tiwahe Foundation, the Division of Indian Work and Native Americans in Philanthropy.    

Adam Savariego (Upper Sioux), representing the University of Minnesota’s Youth Development Leadership program, said he was astonished by “the creativity and technical skills the students already possessed” when they worked on a presentation for the University’s program.
Another aspect of the training is that students will learn there are many different business forms that entrepreneurs may use to turn personal interests and talents into meaningful careers.

migizi2.jpgBy seeking to become an ongoing, self-sustaining business, First Person Productions is emulating the multiple objective business plans of tribal-owned enterprises and cooperatives, including credit unions and mutual insurance companies, which are popular throughout Upper Midwest states.

These member-owned and operated businesses have a primary purpose of meeting business or service needs of members, insists Dutch economist and business professor Gert van Dijk, a leading international expert on cooperatives and their strategies. At the same time, the ventures must be sound enterprises in their own right to survive and succeed in competitive markets.

Where nonprofit businesses are different is that the “members” aren’t really a collection of shareholders. Rather, they are stakeholders – beneficiaries and community members who share reasons for being connected or reliant on an enterprise.

First Person Productions is like a close relative of cooperatives and tribal-owned enterprises, said Graham Hartley, director of programs for MIGIZI Communications.

The nonprofit MIGIZI was launched in 1977 with the objectives of training youth and countering misrepresentations of Native Americans and their communities. This started with producing the first nationally distributed radio show and later television programming for the region. That was the initial enterprise of MIGIZI and the origin of First Person Productions, Hartley said.

From the start, MIGIZI has been a training vehicle for young Native people by introducing high school-age students to modern visual, graphic and audio technology and constantly evolving strategies for multimedia presentations.

MIGIZI has expanded over the years and now has several training and education programs serving Native and at-risk youth. Programs called Green Jobs Pathway, Native Academy, Native Youth Futures, Advancing Change and First Person Productions are somewhat interconnected.

The parent foundation helps students with paid internships when they are working on First Person products, Hartley said. And it also has a matching savings program that multiplies the amount of money students set aside in saving for future college tuition expenses.

The multiple goals of MIGIZA and First Person Productions impressed the University’s Savariego as much as the students’ sophisticated skills.

“I didn’t know about their programs,” he said. “It blew me away.

“This is exactly what I want to do in working with and empowering young people when I get my MED.”

To learn more about MIGIZI and First Person Productions, or to see their products, services and prices, see their website at: .

Hearings on new Line 3 tar sands pipeline to be held in June
Thursday, June 01 2017
Written by Winona LaDuke,
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pipeline3map.jpgLine 3:  It’s the sequel to the Sandpiper but larger. Last year, the White Earth Ojibwe people joined with many others to stop the Sandpiper, the fracked oil pipeline. Now Enbridge is back with another line – same route, same problems. This month, people will have an opportunity to ask questions and comment on Line 3, the Canadian based, 900,000-barrels-a-day, tar sands pipeline.

The Court ordered environmental review released by the Minnesota Department of Commerce is huge and offers some good information. It also brings some deep concerns, including why the “No Build Option” is not recommended.
The project would grant an entirely new corridor for perpetuity through northern Minnesota. That project is not technically a “replacement” since it is in a new corridor and is a much larger pipe.  

Quesitons I might Ask
If you are a Native person, you might want to know why you don’t matter. The Department of Commerce reports that “American Indian communities and individuals have unique health issues associated with historical trauma and structural racism. …American Indians in Minnesota have greater health disparities and poorer health outcomes compared to other racial and ethnic groups in Minnesota…”
The report also states, “…the uprooting of the people from their traditional lands… creates psychological and health impacts for generations. Displacement brought about a loss of traditional ways of making a living, of providing food for the table, and of being in relationship with one another…”

The report also says, “The impacts associated with the proposed Project and its alternatives would be an additional health stressor on tribal communities that already face overwhelming health disparities and inequities…”  

The Department of Commerce notes the Tribal community bears the largest impact of this proposed project, “Any of the routes selected would negatively affect tribal resources and tribal members. The… relationship to the land and the rights tribal members have in the ceded territories complicates the traditional notion of mitigation. The ceded territories and the rights that go with them are not mobile and cannot be transferred…”

And then there’s this, “…A finding of ‘disproportionate and adverse impacts’ does not preclude selection of any given alternative. …This finding does, however, require detailed efforts to avoid, mitigate, minimize, rectify, reduce, or eliminate the impact associated with the construction of the Project or any alternatives.”

In other words, does this mean, “deal with it”?

The Department of Commerce also noted that the preferred project route would cross more wild rice lakes than any other proposed route.
Where is the spill data?

Enbridge has tried to bar the disclosure of this information from the public, stating that some “bad actors” might use this information. Park Rapids based Friends of the Headwaters pointed out that “…Enbridge pipelines on its mainline route are exposed above ground or shallowly buried in many locations. Google Earth can be used to find such pipelines hanging above streams. This imagery reveals that many pipelines are within a few feet of each other. The type of person who would do deliberate damage already has plenty of information about where to do such damage….”  

There are some spill scenarios in the report, but none has been done, for instance, on the St. Louis River. If I was  Duluth’s mayor or city council, I would want to know what the plan was to protect the Great Lakes.

There’s not a lot of discussion of this in the document, although this is a pretty big problem and a precedent. There are at least eight operating pipelines in Minnesota, of which most have been around thirty or more years. This is the first “abandonment” of a line and would set a national precedent.

Let’s say this problem does not get solved now… and so another five lines or so get abandoned, and then what?    Time to fix the problem now.  Let’s find out what’s under the pipes which Enbridge says are in a state of “deterioration”,  in other words, they are leaking.  

This year, Representative Rick Hanson (DFL, 52A)  proposed the first attempt to give landowners a right to make decisions on pipelines in their territory. The idea of tribes and the state regulating abandonment in our pristine watersheds might be a good idea. Many landowners say that should be solved before we talk about any new pipelines.  

The impact on the place the pipe comes from, where it goes, and the overall atmosphere from 900,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil might take a bit more work to figure out. It’s more than the cancers and health impacts on the Dene people who live downstream from the tar sands projects.

One Canadian report notes, “No one knows what will happen when a mine has exhausted a site, shuts down its operation, and leaves. Tailings pond abandonment is an unproven technology whose success is predicated on modeling rather than real world experience. . . . Billions of cubic meters of contaminated water soon will be sitting untended, with no active pumping, in abandoned ponds adjacent to the Athabasca River.”

And finally, there is a question of need. The Toronto Globe and Mail suggests that pipeline companies and politicians are overbuilding tar sands pipe lines by 2.4 million barrels a day capacity. And it is not clear how much tar sands oil, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, will be produced in ten or fifteen years.

Now would be the time to ask if this pipeline is needed.  Informational meetings are set to take place in June around Minnesota.

Pipeline 3 Meeting

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Enbridge Energy’s proposed Line 3 Pipeline Project has been made available for public review and comment. The DEIS was prepared by the Minnesota Department of Commerce in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to evaluate human and environmental impacts of the proposed Line.  Public meetings will provide an opportunity to learn about the info in the EIS and provide oral or written comments into record. Comments will be accepted through July 10 and may be emailed, mailed, or faxed. Email address: Pipeline.Comments@ US Mail: Jamie MacAlister, Environmental Review Manager, MN Dept of Commerce, 85 7th Place E., # 280, St. Paul, MN 55101-2198. Fax: 651-539-0109. Include docket numbers CN-14-916 and PPL-15-137 on all comments. Personally identifying information is not edited or deleted from submissions.

Meetings will be held at the following times and locations:
• June 6: 10am-1pm,  Rice Lake Comm Center, 13830 Community Loop, Bagley.
• June 6: 6-9pm, IRA Civic Center, 1401 NW 3rd Ave, Grand Rapids.
• June 7: 10am-1pm, Park Rapids High School, Cafetorium, 401 Huntsinger Ave, Park Rapids.
• June 7: 6-9pm, Palace Casino Hotel, 16599 69th Ave NW, Cass Lake.
• June 8: 10am-1pm, Downtown Fair Center, 107 W 7th Ave, Floodwood.
• June 8: 6-9pm, Central Lakes College, room E54, 501 W College Dr, Brainerd.
• June 9: 11am-2pm. Maslowski Wellness & Research Center, 17 5th Street SW, Wadena.
• June 12: 10am-1pm, Grand Casino Hinckley, 777 Lady Luck Dr, Hinckley.
• June 12: 6-9pm, East Lake Comm. Ctr, 36666 State Hwy 65, McGregor.
• June 13: 10am-1pm, FDL Tribal College, 2101 14th St, Cloquet.
• June 13: 6-9pm, Intercontinental Hotel Saint Paul, 11 E. Kellogg Blvd, St. Paul.
• June 14: 11am-2pm, Staples Comm Ctr, 425 4th St NE, Staples.
• June 14: 6-9pm, Initiative Found-ation, 405 1st St SE, Little Falls.
• June 15: 10am-1pm, Henry's Catering Hall, 6774 MN-25, Foley.
• June 15: 6-9pm, Phoenix Hotel, 210 MN-23, Milaca.
• June 16: 10am-1pm, Grand Event Center, 2025 Rowland Rd, Mora.
• June 20: 10am-1pm, Marshall Cty Central Schools, 310 W Minnesota Ave, Newfolden.
• June 20: 6-9pm, Hallock City Hall, 163 3rd St SE, Hallock.
• June 21: 10am-1pm, R. Engelstad Arena, Imperial Rm, 525 Brooks Ave N, Thief River Falls.
• June 21: 6-9pm, Plummer Senior Citizen Center, 185 Minnesota St, Plummer.
• June 22: 10am-1pm, Gully Comm. Center, 120 Main St, Gully.
• June 22: 6-9pm, Sanford/Nielson Conv. Ctr, 1111 Event Center Dr NE, Bemidji.


Statement from Olga Viso, Walker Art Center Executive Director, and Jayne Miller, Minneapolis Park a
Monday, May 29 2017
Written by Olga Viso, and Jayne Miller,
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May 29th: Statement from Olga Viso, Walker Art Center Executive Director, and Jayne Miller, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Superintendent:

Out of respect for the process of mediation and resolution that is yet to unfold, the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board announce today the official re-opening for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will be postponed until Saturday, June 10, 2017. Both partners agree that this is the most appropriate course of action to honor the dialogue that is underway between Dakota Elders, the Walker, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and artist Sam Durant regarding the sculpture Scaffold in the Garden.

A private mediation with a group of Dakota Elders is planned for the morning of Wednesday, May 31, 2017, with leaders from the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, City of Minneapolis, and the artist and his representatives. In advance of this mediation, Dakota Elders will be meeting with a broader cross-section of the Dakota community on Tuesday evening. This meeting is being organized by Dakota Elders and will inform the mediation process. Their announcement is available below and is being posted on the All My Relations gallery website.

Dakota Elders leading the mediation process have respectfully asked that others who feel allied in this endeavor, but who are not Dakota, or whom may represent other communities across the state and region, to please be patient and respect the process that is currently underway. There is concern from all parties involved in the mediation process that pre-emptive actions in advance of these discussions would be counterproductive.

A public statement at 2 pm on Wednesday, May 31, will provide an update on the status of the mediation.



Dakota Elders Announcement

On Tuesday 7:00 PM May 30, 2017 all Dakota traditional spiritual elders are invited to meet to discuss how to respond to the “Scaffold” sculpture that is currently under construction by Walker Art Center on Minneapolis Park and Recreation Land in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


The intent of the Elder meeting is to share the information about the structure, to hear a timely written update from the Walker Art Center, and to make decisions about the priorities for next steps for the structure, specifically:

1) Elders’ wishes regarding the structure

2) who will be in the working group to plan a ceremony

3) how to involve the Dakota community including the youth as well as Native artists in this historic event, and future discussions of the important role that art plays in truth-telling

4) which twelve Elders are available/willing to attend the first face to face meeting with the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the Minneapolis administrator and the artist, Sam Durant, on Wednesday May 31.

All Dakota are encouraged and invited to respond with their insights in this process. This is an opportunity for parents to engage the children in learning about their history and for the students and professions to use their position to help share our truth, our history. Because of the quick timing of this first meeting and the fact that many Dakota cannot travel to this meeting, you may send/share your response to an Elder who will carry that intention forward in prayer to the meeting.

This Elder meeting will be open to all Dakota elders on Tuesday May 30th 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm at All My Relations Gallery, 1414 Franklin Ave Minneapolis Minnesota. We welcome all Dakota who come with a good heart, with respect for the ancestors, the elders, our traditional ways and our Sacred sites for the opening prayer and announcements. No press please. This is only the first of many meetings to help create a process of healing and to help educate through Dakota truth-telling of our own history.

The next step will be the face-to-face meeting of Dakota spiritual and traditional elders with the related parties Wednesday morning 9:30 to 12:30 to discuss next steps, followed by a joint press announcement at 2 PM of any logistic decisions made. Recognizing that the presence of the sculpture is very volatile to our community, that timeliness and participation by all related parties is very important, the focus of this part of the mediation process will be discussing the logistics. Broader education for the staff and public will come later. The Walker Art Center and Park Board have agreed to push back the Grand Opening of the sculpture garden until Saturday June 10 to allow for more attention to this process and for good faith efforts at dialogue by all parties.

We call upon all Dakota to pray for wisdom and for healing. We request that all press wait for the joint announcement on Wednesday after our private mediation meeting rather than seeking individual statements from our community. We ask all non-Dakota allies to not take action on our behalf; please respectfully allow us space to conduct our process in our way and timing, that we may heal.



Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Walker Art Center Media Contacts

Meredith Kessler

Walker Art Center

O: 612-375-7651

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Robin Smothers

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

O: 612-230-6410

C: 612-499-9052

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An Open Letter on Sam Durant’s Scaffold
Saturday, May 27 2017
Written by Olga Viso,
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Open Letter to The Circle

Learning in Public: An Open Letter on Sam Durant’s Scaffold
By Olga Viso

Art work entitled On May 25, Walker director Olga Viso outlined the approach for selecting the 18 new sculptures to be unveiled in June in the reconstructed Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. One work by Los Angeles–based artist Sam Durant entitled Scaffold, which addresses the history of the death penalty, is raising questions among some local audiences for its reference, among others, to a specific event in Minnesota history related to the US-Dakota War. Here, in an open letter to The Circle, a publication devoted to Native American news and arts, Viso discusses Durant’s sculpture, as well as the artist’s and the Walker’s intents, and acknowledges potential communal concerns with the work’s reception, especially among local Native audiences.

For the last 30 years, the Walker Art Center has been responsible for selecting art for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, adding new works by emerging artists working in diverse forms. During our process of choosing works for the newly reconstructed Garden opening this summer, we sought to engage artists whose works often explore complex questions about the times in which we live. One of these is Sam Durant’s Scaffold (2012). Constructed of wood and steel, this work layers together the forms of seven historical gallows that were used in US state-sanctioned executions by hanging between 1859 and 2006. These representations, assembled one on top of the other, intersect into a single, complicated structure. This composite forms what Durant intends as a critique—“neither memorial nor monument”—that invokes white, governmental power structures that have controlled and subjugated nations and peoples, especially communities of color, throughout the history of the US.

Of the seven gallows depicted in Durant’s sculpture, there is one specific to Minnesota history: the gallows design related to the execution of the Dakota 38 in Mankato, Minnesota in 1862. The Mankato Massacre represents the largest mass execution in the history of the United States, in which 38 Dakota men were executed by order of President Lincoln in the same week that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. It is one of the greatest atrocities in the history of our state and in the history of capital punishment. The artist has referenced this event along with the other six scaffolds that comprise the structure, which include those used to execute abolitionist John Brown (1859); the Lincoln Conspirators (1865), which included the first woman executed in US history; the Haymarket Martyrs (1886), which followed a labor uprising and bombing in Chicago; Rainey Bethea (1936), the last legally conducted public execution in US history; Billy Bailey (1996), the last execution by hanging (not public) in the US; and Saddam Hussein (2006), for war crimes at a joint Iraqi/US facility.

Durant’s sculpture raises complex questions about how contentious moments in history are remembered. It raises deeper questions still about how, why, by whom, and for whom. As an institution that champions the work of living artists, we also champion the freedom of expression extended to artists and audiences alike. We recognize, however, that the siting of Scaffold in our state, on a site that is only a short distance from Mankato, raises unique concerns. We recognize the decision to exhibit this work might cause some to question the Walker’s sensitivity to Native audiences and audiences in Minnesota more familiar with this dark history.

As director of the Walker, I regret that I did not better anticipate how the work would be received in Minnesota, especially by Native audiences. I should have engaged leaders in the Dakota and broader Native communities in advance of the work’s siting, and I apologize for any pain and disappointment that the sculpture might elicit. When I first encountered Scaffold in a sculpture park in Europe five years ago, I saw a potent artistic statement about the ethics of capital punishment. Most importantly, I recognized its capacity to address the buried histories of violence in this country, in particular raising needed awareness among white audiences. I knew this could be a difficult artwork on many levels. This is invariably connected to national issues still embedded in the psyche of this country and its violent, colonialist past.

Yet despite my and the Walker’s earnest intent to raise understanding and increase awareness of this and other histories in our American democracy, the work remains problematic in our community in ways that we did not sufficiently anticipate or imagine. There is no doubt that what we perceived as a multifaceted argument about capital punishment on a national level affecting a variety of communities across the US may be read through a different lens here in Minnesota. We also acknowledge that the artist’s intent to create a work meant “as a space of remembering” may be misread. Because the structure can serve as a gathering space, which allows visitors to explore it in un-ceremonial ways, we realize it requires heightened attention and education in all of our visitor orientation and interpretation.

It is my hope that this moment will foster critical and productive conversations around the complex questions the artist brings forth. I also intend that it provoke discussion about how the Walker can strive to be a more sensitive and inclusive institution. This is a deep learning moment—and will not be the last—for the Walker and its relationship with Native audiences. I pledge that we will continue to learn actively, and in public, and to create pathways for listening and supporting the full range of conversations that this work will engender as they evolve in the weeks and months ahead.

Our next steps will be decided in consultation with community members who elect to be involved in this process; we will look to their feedback in shaping the framework for this process. As part of our active learning we recognize that our work moving forward must be done with the guidance of the Dakota community. To start our listening process we invite your feedback to this email address: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


Updated Statement from the Walker Center

A Statement from Olga Viso, Executive Director of the Walker Art Center:

Because we are keenly aware of how important the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is to the community, city and state, we have been taking the public response over the last 24 hours very seriously.

The responses have overwhelmingly conveyed and expressed anger and sadness that Scaffold has caused the Dakota community and beyond.

As the Executive Director of the Walker, I regret the pain that this artwork has brought to the Dakota community and others.

Prompted by the outpouring of community feedback, the artist Sam Durant is open to many outcomes including the removal of the sculpture. He has told me, “It’s just wood and metal – nothing compared to the lives and histories of the Dakota people.”

I am in agreement with the artist that the best way to move forward is to have Scaffold dismantled in some manner and to listen and learn from the Elders. The details of how and when will be determined by Traditional Spiritual Dakota Elders at a meeting scheduled with the Walker and the artist on Wednesday, May 31 with the support of a mediator selected by the Elders. This is the first step in a long process of healing.

We will continue listening and communicating to the public as plans develop in partnership with the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board.


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