The Walker Art Center Scaffold Exhibition and How It Offended the Dakota Nations

January 13, 2018

David Hofstede Interview for Cowboys and Indian Magazine

Topic: The Walker Art Center Scaffold Exhibition and How It Offended the Dakota Nations

In our St. Paul, Minnesota home of the 1950’s and 60’s the Dakota Uprising was always a topic reserved for only late night discussions.  Not a topic to be spoken of in the light of day for fear of public reprisals.  Even though it had been over 100 years since the Dakota Conflict of 1862 and it’s tragic aftermath there was still an inherent fear and apprehension of that conversation in the Dakota community.

Especially in our family because we were descendents of Little Crow, the Mdewakantowan Chief that led the Dakota-Wahpekute-Sissetowan warriors during the summer and fall of that fateful year.

As a matter of fact my father, Clarance Leith, would never speak the Dakota language unless with other Dakota family members and only in the privacy of seclusion.  So even though the language was accessible, we children were never allowed or encouraged to learn it’s beauty.

After the Dakota Conflict came to an end in the fall of 1862 Little Crow or Taoyateduta (His Red Nation) escaped to Manitoba with many others who had been involved in the war.  When he secretly returned in July of 1863 he was ambushed and shot by two farmers in Hutchinson, Minnesota, for the scalp bounty.  Only after killing him did they realize who he was and what that meant to the State of Minnesota.  The State of Minnesota after dismembering the body, put his head on a pole in downtown St. Paul, where it remained for many years for the public to target and violate in their anger.

So as to minimize any danger that might be posed to our family, the history and descendency of our family was always a subtle subject, only to be celebrated in safe circumstances.

This information has never been and still is not taught in the Minnesota public school system as part of any curriculum.  In 1971 the American Indian Movement established the Survival School system to address the huge disparities in success between Native and non-Native children in the educational system in MInnesota.  Within this venue which included the Red School House in St. Paul, and the AIM Survival School in Minneapolis, where I taught for many years, we were finally able to teach and learn about the truth in Minnesota history, and in American history around the relationships between the United States and Indian Country.

The Dakota Conflict of 1862 was a centerpiece of the Indian History and Culture series.  The American Indian Movement fought for the freedom of eduction for Native children without fear of reprisal.  So in that context, the truth of those events came to the surface because the Native families in Minnesota now had a safe environment in which to openly discuss and share the tragic events which affected their families and communities. It was here that we began to learn of the horrific events surrounding the aftermath of the Dakota Conflict and why the effect of those events still resonated deeply within the homes of Dakota families from Santee, Nebraska up the Red River Valley to Sioux Valley, Manitoba.

As Germany is not proud of it’s mid twentieth century legacy, the State of Minnesota is not proud of it’s post Dakota Conflict legacy of 1862-63.  State officals have made a constitant effort to distance themselves and avoid this particular era in state history because they don’t want it to be known that they orchestrated the largest mass hanging in the history of the United States.  Nothing has compared up to that time or since that time in magnitude with regard to justice and or injustice in this state or this country.  That type of history is not a state priority.  Minnesota now wants to be known as the liberal, anti-racist and bigotry free state of a new age.  Which is an admirable aspiration, except for the fact that it has been build on theft, deceit, bribery, scoundralism, and unabated murder in the case of the Dakota people.  The State of Minnesota stole thousands of acres of land by manipulating the illiteracy of the Dakota people from the first treaty of 1851 to the final treaty of 1868 at Ft. Laramie.  When the general public demanded that more land be made available for “settlement” the only obstacle were the Dakota people.  Of course I’m deliberately leaving out the Ojibwe in Minnesota because that history belongs to them.

The Dakota Conflict of 1862 began during a time of poor harvest, lack of hunting grounds, federal  mismanagement, and trader theft.  The U.S.- Dakota treaties were promises made and not kept.  When the Dakota’s were left to starve, beg, and humiliate themselves in front of traders, officials, and clergy the good people of Minnesota did not come to their aid.  But rather sat on the sidelines, as hyenas, and waited for the Dakota to be decimated, relocated or starved out of their lands, or killed so they could reap the rewards and loot their assets.

It was it this context of human hardship that the “uprising” took place.  It was also the culmination of inadequate federal policies which only served as a detrimental approach to U.S.-Dakota relations.

The centerpiece of which was the largest mass hanging in the history of the United States and the kangaroo court, ten-minute military trials of those Dakota involved in the conflict.  Trials in which there were no legal representatives, interpreters and or advocates to serve for the defense of many Dakota men and boys, some of whom were not even involved in the conflict.  We know of one young boy in particular who was hung by mistake.

But the other tragedies included the murder and disappearences of many Dakota during the relocation and eventual diaspora of the entire Dakota Nation to the western territories which were considered to be neutral to the conflict.  That is why the current Dakota Nation is spread throughout the present day Dakota’s and up into the Canadian provinces.

Women and children were being arbitrarily hunted, murdered, secretly disposed of by the Minnesota citizens and U.S. military as they were being forceibly relocated to the Ft. Snelling concentration camp and on the river voyage down to Davenport Iowa.  And they were then sent to the most inhospitable territory imaginable to die in record numbers.

It is this series of post conflict events that caused a condition of historical trauma and intergenerational malignment among today’s Dakota families.  So to have to revisit and once again face the facts of this history for many Dakota families has caused an unnecessary trauma.

The news of the Walker Art Center’s Scaffold exhibit hit Native social media bulletin boards in early summer.  I began paying attention when notice went out to the Dakota elders about meetings taking place around the negative impact of the work.  As a Dakota elder I was interested in what was being discussed around the issue especially with regard to conditions being set for ongoing planning and resolutions.

By the time I attended my first meeting in Sisseton, South Dakota the structure had already been taken down and the wood was being stored by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board.  This meeting  was one of a series being hosted by prominent Dakota elders and spiritual leaders.  The Dakota elders working group was made up of prominent Dakota families from Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and Canada.

The discussion centered around the spiritual impact that the exhibit would have and how to work within a sensitive framework for it’s destruction.  Two things became apparent right away, one was that the wood was not to be burnt, and the other was that the storage and ultimate destruction of the wood had to remain confidential and private.

Of course the first reaction of many was to burn the wood.  But working within the spiritual context of Dakota tradition and cultural values we realized that using fire in a negative, destructive manner was not respectful of fire itself.  As fire has a spirit and it is much too powerful to be used in a destructive manner, especially in relation to this historical issue.  So the decision was finally made to shred and bury the wood in a private, undisclosed location.

The reason for privacy or secrecy was historically driven.  In 1862 after the mass hanging in Mankato, Minnesota, the citizens of affected communities absconded with anything of value from the original scaffold.  As a matter of fact there is still a hangman’s noose in the inventory of the Minnesota Historical Society.  It must be understood that the original scaffold was a tremendous structure, equivilent to the size of a two story house.  And the architecture was the first of it’s kind specifically designed for one purpose.  The United States had never undertaken such a large scale mass execution as with this method.  The construction used a special roping, pulley, and trapdoor technique especially designed for a simultaneous hanging of all the 38 Dakota men.  This unique development of equipment was the first of it’s kind and would never be duplicated in the history of the United States.  The original military request for executions as was sent to President Abraham Lincoln was for over 300 Dakota men to be hung.  Lincoln pared the number to 38 as 300 plus might be politically unacceptable.

The other apprehension with the destruction of the wood was souvenir hunting and or scavenging.  After the original 38 (two other Dakota Chiefs would be hung the next year at Ft. Snelling) were hung their remains were illegally exhumed from a mass grave by the military, prominent doctors and common citizens for sale, exhibition or personal collections.  Therefore the families of many of the executed, murdered and disappeared were never given the opportunity to bury their own dead.  Their family members were never seen or heard from again.  As another matter of fact many bodies of the 38 plus two have to this day havel not been repatriated for proper burial.  Rumours of their whereabouts have circulated for generations and it was not until the American Freedom of Religion Act of 1978 that some remains were uncovered and given back to the families including Dakota Chiefs Little Crow and Little Six.  But at the same time many remains like those of  Dakota Chief Medicine Bottle, who was kidnapped in Canada and forcibly returned to the state of Minnesota, have never been properly repatriated and the family still mourns their loss.

I use the comparison of the Jacob Wetterling family and their long quest to locate their missing son who was kidnapped and disappeared in 1989 in St. Joseph, Minnesota.  Jacob’s killer was finally captured and the remains of Jacob were returned to the family for mourning and proper burial.

Many Dakota families have never had that privilege.  The devastating impact that the missing family members have had on today’s Dakota families has been intergenerational.  This is where the destructive force of historical trauma has had a debilitating legacy, and now I understand why many families refused to have sensitive discussions with regard to that difficult period of history.

My first response was shock and disbelief and deep sadness.   I thought how disrespectful and disdainfully egregious, damaging, hurtful, disingenuous to a very proud, and powerful and active Dakota community.  The fact that the scaffold and all of it’s intricacies was built true to scale was absolutely alarming.  The Walker Art Center plan was to turn the post-exhibition display into a play area for children and families.  Visions of children swinging from the hangman’s nooses horrified me and others, who thought that couldn’t be the truth.  Drinking wine and eating cibatta bread sandwiches under the scaffold beams just could not be in anyone’s thought process.

It would be akin to giving tours of Japanese internment camps, or firing up facsimile ovens used at Birkenhau, or Treblinka.

We weren’t informed of the overall purpose of the “art piece” and the projected goals and aspirations for the teaching moment.  We later learned that it was to be a teaching moment on the execution styles in American History.  Apparently the Walker was seeking to engage a broad discussion around the largest mass hanging in the history of the United States and possibly the world.  All without the consultation and direct involvement of the Dakota community.

There has to be a point in time where a community, any community has to draw a line and seek to quell any affront to it’s culture, essence and dignity.  In this case it needed to be done right away.  What I found was that there was a fortress of support for the position and response being taken up by the Dakota community and the Indian community in general.   One outstanding component of that support was the Minnesota arts community itself.   The membership of Walker itself, funders, donors, and general public members were also shocked by the erection and magnitude of the scaffold.

Campaign is such a soft word with regard to the position we took.  Protest, demonstration and even potential legal possibilites were all discussed and initiated right away.  The Walker had to meet with several segments of the Indian community in early summer.  These meetings were subjectively dynamic to say the least.  All of the Dakota tribes in Minnesota and several from South Dakota, North Dakota and Manitoba were represented.  The artist, Sam Durant came to realize what it was he had unintentionally incurred in this piece of work.  He apologized for the transgressions and humbly agreed to sign over the copyright to the scaffold to the Dakota community.  The Walker issued several apologies both in writing and in person for the offense.   These discussions are still going on today and we have made some progress.

I did an interview with Laura Waterman Wittstock, Seneca Nation member  on KFAI-First Person Radio on January 10, 2017 in Minneapolis.   In this interview I stated that had there been proper vetting and consultation with the Dakota community there could have been an entirely different outcome.  Having direct participation and involvement would have turned an injustice into a true learning opportunity, possibly with constructive outcomes.  But as I said this is in hindsight, and it seemed to me that we faced a dilemma which has always been prevalent in Indian country and that’s that we were invisible, and of no or very little consequence.  It’s the “token Indian” syndrome in action, Walker may have taken the word of one person, article and or public construct and decided that it was sufficient and gave it no further notice.

Are there similarities between the confederate statues and this controversy. During the time of deliberation with regard to this historical dilemma, President Lincoln was thinking of using “war time” considerations and consequences for the Dakota Conflict.  But this option was never exercised for whatever reason.  It certainly would have given thought to stopping a mass execution for maybe a more humane sentencing venue of imprisonment and or maybe financial retributions. But the anger, resentment, and animosity of the State of Minnesota gave rise to an immediate and final solution to the Dakota problem in MInnesota.  It also laid the path for the complete and nihilistic exile of all Dakota people’s in the state to a desolate landscape in the west.  The rules of war as federally held and executed in the 1861-1865 American Civil war was primarily filtered through a racially homogenic lens.  The confederacy was allowed to return to normal after the war.  There were not mass executions, firing squads, and or Guatanamo type imprisonment systems established for the southerners who participated in the war.  They were given an amnesty so as to rejoin the American social system with impunity.

Art has a responsibility to the level of respect that they themselves want to incur upon their own best practices and creative legacy.

The scaffold, the only one of it’s kind in that day and time, is not art, was not art, and was never intended to be art or any other structure except that for which it was made, to execute human beings.  We respect an artist’s genre-style and we would respect and honor any other work that may have been done by Sam Durant or other artists who have completed similiar projects.

The question is when does art cross the line of artistic expression, or is there an invisible line of acceptance and applause which needs to be met.  Who makes the difinitive determination as to whether or not art in whatever form is being a service to the national cultural morays or is it a form of national propaganda.

What we stand on is the fact that as a strong viable community that has chosen to participate in the great American race we would like to be included in the evolution of artistic expression and of any artistic revolution that would use our culture, history, paradigms, standards, and spiritual philosophies and practices as a backdrop or foundation for their work.  That’s one message we are sending.

I think what happened here was that the Walker Art Center, in it’s enthusiastic pursuit of notoriety became a Minneapolis iconic arts centerpiece that with so much success, could do no wrong.  They became aloof to the very community that existed only a few blocks from their front door, and neglected to deeply research their own project that might have an impact on that same community.

This actually is a common misstep among non-profits, corporations, and even government.  To travel so far from your base that you lose touch with grassroots people and organizations.  But that is not to say that it’s an end game of any sort, as a matter of fact many organizations have taken this lesson and have grown in their goals and objectives.  The Minneapolis Institute of Art is one, the United Methodist Church is another.

So we remain in touch with Walker Art Center as they explore a organization shift within their own ranks.  We wish them well and we remain available, but this is a journey that the Walker must and can make on it’s own.   Once the organization institutes changes which they have been in charge of, they can own whatever outcomes result as a transformational moment.

As Always I Remain,

Ronald P. Leith

Tahumpa Waste

(Good Moccasin)

Racist Censorship at UND

The University of North Dakota has had a long history of defending it’s racist agenda in fighting to maintain the Fighting Sioux logo and symbolism.  They created a backdrop of ignorance, closed-mindedness and racist ideologies in their attempt to stem the anti-mascot issue in their own backyard.

From the early 1970’s American Indian students have protested the Fighting Sioux stereotypical logo and it implication that the Sioux were violent, murderous, and bloodthirsty savages.  This fight has been swirling around for decades.  And the main point has always been to dismantle a tradition of racism, stereotyping, as the black Americans have had to do with civil rights and the right to vote.

And the American Indian national agenda has been to dismantle the racist mascot symbolism from the Washington Redskins to the University of Illinois Chief Illianiawick

One of the largest donors to UND was closely associated with Nazi propaganda, racist agendas and anti-Indian stereotyping in order to advance it’s national sports programs.

Finally in 2017 the Fighting Sioux logo and all associated propaganda was disassembled and the university remodeled a long history of racist sports traditions.  But that has not changed a current of prevalent racist agenda’s which until this month has been largely unpronounced.

In November of this year a Native professor, Dr. Mark Trahant resigned from the faculty at UND because they denied his request to teach a class on Standing Rock and the Media.

Standing Rock is a sore point for stagnant racists in North Dakota.  They protested the Dakota Access Pipeline and the entire world watched as the confrontations went from bad to worse.

Social media, national and international news organizations with a few corporate exceptions covered the protest for weeks and months.  For some media venues this was a momentous event.

As the American Indian community and their supporters, led by North Dakota’s sovereign Standing Rock Sioux Tribe stood toe to toe with county, state federal forces and the corporate giants military-like private goons tried to prevent the “Water Protectors and their effort to stem the anti-environment corporate tide.

On November 1, 2017 Seneca journalist and host of First Person Radio Laura Waterman Wittstock interviewed Mark Trahant, now former faculty member at the University of North Dakota as the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism.

In 2009 and 2010 Dr. Trahant was the Kaiser Media Fellow writing on health care reform in Indian Country.  He was also the Atwood Chair of Journalism at the University of Alaska Anchorage.  But even with these and other prestigious accomplishments the University of North Dakota denies Dr. Trahant the opportunity to lecture on Standing Rock.


Note To Bernie Sanders

It seems as though attorneys have a locked in fast track to the US Congress, when it should be encouraged that professionals from all fields need to be in US Congress in order to widen our priorities, goals, and objectives for a robust and definitively secure future.  When Congress denied the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) they set this country on a very slow track to national growth and enhanced technological strength.  US Congressional focus, or the attorneys focus, was immediate fiscal gains for a corporate environment.  Science was left to it’s fiscal dregs and philanthropic handouts.
And when the opportunity arises to strengthen science in the schools, once again the US Congressional attorneys balk at the extraordinary “expense” on what they deem a worthless cause.  Whereas a scientist or mathematician would give viable argument and credence to an enhanced scientific educational system.
Less Congressional lawyers + More science $ = secure US future.


“They Are Coming…They Are Here”

On September 9, 2009, they showed themselves to me. Their light is bright, definitive, attentive, their coming, and their also already here.
Our Fathers, our Grandfathers. Our Mothers, our Grandmothers, our ancestors, our center.
I am so grateful, I am filled with love and compassion for them, for this time, and for everything I have been given. And I am filled with love for the human race, mankind, and all people. This is the goal, this is the objective. Only love, compassion and kindness can change us, and prepare us for them.
Only love can prepare us for their coming, acceptance is the key to the continuation of mankind.
I am Anishinabe = Ojibwe/ Mdewakanton -Dakota. I am American Indian, Native American, First Nation made of my father’s blood and of mother’s blood.
My Father was Mdewakanton – Dakota and my Mother was Anishinabe-Ojibwe.
We have about 27 months to prepare, or to continue preparing. Prayer, belief, commitment are all within our grasp. They are all free. They are all necessities to a greater understanding and tools for acknowledgment.
I have always been told we are pitiful human beings. And if not we will become pitiful in our own time. There is no harm. There is only transformation, enlightenment, the greater good if you will.
In my spiritual practice we honor the iyan, the stone, and the grandfathers. They are the first beings. They have been and they will always be. They have been our support, our teachers, and our rock if you will, in hard times and in good times.
Respect life, honor thyself, and be of love not of hate. Allow God to open your eyes ever so wide, ever so wider. He wants you to see the change. He wants you to be the change. He wants you to know you are the change. He wants you to know you have always been the change. Do not live in fear, or anger. They will only hold you back from drifting on the river of life, from wading in the waters of change. He wants you to accept who you are today; remember you are as he wants you.
Be at Peace with yourself and with your life. And when they see you, they will know you for who you truly are, and you will discover who you are in the reflection of their eyes.
Their love is so great, magnanimous, and unconditional that it could overwhelm you if you are not prepared. I know this to be true, for I have experienced it. In our ceremonies it has always been there. That love, that comfort, the steady beat of the heart, the silence of the mind, the acceptance and the
resolution. The love is in those precious songs, Wakan Odowan as we say in our natural language; it is in those age old languages. Those deep, deep feelings we cannot seem to shake or destroy. We have always had the key to direct communication. Some of us have learned to understand that and accept that we have tools for camaraderie.
The truth is coming. Whether we want to accept it or not. It is not coming from without, it is coming from within. And where are we when it comes to the “within.” Are we being true to ourselves, to our God given being, or are we whoever we want to be. We deceive ourselves with the belief that we know the truth. Because of what we see and what we hear, or maybe even what we say. Now to speak as a human being and to have the audacity to believe that what we are saying is the truth, now that’s frightening and that is what we need to fear. We should fear ourselves and our own minds. We are the enemy.
We have been told. They have told us and we have chosen not to listen, and now it is too late. They are coming and they are here. When I say this to you where does your intellectual mind go, “who are they” of course. Well we know them, we have always known them. But we have chosen not to believe that we know them. We have chosen to live as skeptics, questioners, doubters. Well now it doesn’t matter, we are no longer in control of our own destiny; we have sold our choice for self gratification. We have chosen to be consumers rather than cooperators.
The river is here. The river is moving. What is your choice, what are you going to do. You will have to make a choice and you will not be able to wait any longer. Will you walk in, will you dive in, will you be afraid, or will you accept.
And once in the river will you fight the current, will you try to climb out back onto the shore, or will you grab onto your neighbor hoping that he will save you, or will you accept the river and go where it will take you. You have a choice and you are making it now as you read, you made it when you picked up this book, you made it when you awoke this morning and faced another day.
Nothing I say here is new, so if you came looking for new, it’s not here. This is the old. This is the known. This is the subconscious and the super-subconscious.
Everything you have ever wanted you already have. You have seen to that, they have seen to it that you do. If your life is filled with the negative, it is because you have attracted the negative to you. That is your own free will. Now is the time for the positive. You have been told this over and over. They have told you, in your relationships, in your experiences, in your dreams. You have chosen not to hear, even though you may have listened, you refused to hear. And that my friend is your karma.
In our ceremonies we have learned to learn. We have in silence been taught, throughout the millennia we have been right where we were meant to be and we have not strayed. Others have tried to move us from the path, but we have accepted and resisted. You know that history. It is your history too, especially if you call yourself an American.
But now the time for demarcation and division is gone, it is over. Some will see and some will not. But we are at a time now when our participation is not optional. Participation is not mandatory either. That might seem to be a dichotomy but once you ask and you have the answer, the understanding will be in the answer, and you will discover you have had the answer all the time.
Ask them to help you, they will, they are not of the negative, they are not polarized as you and I are, they are only there and now they are here. Speak to them, help them to help you. Be yourself; live in the light, even if for one day. Be there for them and they will see you and you will see yourself, sometimes in them.
President Barack Obama said in his speech the “time for action is now”. See, you are being told. He was talking on health care in America, but he could just as easily have been talking to the starving in Uganda, or the prisoner in Thailand or the poor in Moscow. And I know he was talking to you.
Find solitude, find the quiet in you, and remain there for awhile. Don’t interrupt yourself. Hear your heart and your soul speak to you. Be at one with yourself. The message is there. Look deep into your well, look way down past the garbage you have piles upon yourself and find that light, that innocence.
I can only implore you so much, much is up to you. I am only one messenger in a world of thousands. But I would not be saying these things to you if I did not truly love you. Even though you don’t know me and we have never met and may never meet.
Every day around the world a bell tolls and rings every hour on the hour in a church or a chapel, hear it and then listen to it, the message is there, in the sweet sound of life, of love of compassion. They want you to hear, to listen and to hear. But you have to turn away from the intellectual mind and turn to the spiritual mind.
Once I spoke to a group of people at a retreat in Minnesota, that’s where I’m from, and I tried to tell them of the spiritual mind and how we have access to it and how it would guide us if we would only allow it to take control.
But rather than hear me and listen, they chose to ask questions, interrupt and come to their own conclusions before I had the chance to explain it to them. They were not ready. It was very sad for me to see that happen to them. But they chose to separate, investigate and they used their intellectual minds, which were very powerful, and develop conclusions based on who I was, and not on what I said.
We have all done this. I have done it. But during the last year or so, I was active in my addiction, alcohol and drugs and I too allowed the frailty of my humanness to lead me and to run my life, my program. In AA we say “program” a lot while speaking of our attempts to recover from numerous bouts of active using.
But for me the lesson was that I am frail, weak, easily distracted, taken off course, waylaid. In short I am human.
I was running because of fear, I was afraid of me. I was using, kicking up the dirt, dust and grime of my addictive behavior so that I would not have to really see me. I used others as excuses. Fortunately for me I have a wife who did not give up on me and brought me back into recovery.
But I allowed my own human weakness to conjure up my disbelief systems. And did they ever come alive. I separated myself from all that was truly me, my wife, my friends, my family, my canupa (my pipe). Oh my God, my canupa, my center, my life and my love in its essence.
Fear, selfishness, resentment, anger, alcoholic disease, these are all the antithesis of who I am, and what I am suppose to be doing. My life should be of God and not of me. I am my own greatest distraction.
But here today, a short time into my recovery my insight is returning, my attentiveness has sharpened.
Much has been said about the great change that some say is coming and others have said is here. So I am not alone in my beliefs.

Dakota 38 the sign

<div id=”fb-root”></div> <script>(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); = id; js.src = “//″; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));</script>
<div class=”fb-post” data-href=”;set=a.3547422487420.132237.1328293876&amp;type=1&#8243; data-width=”466″><div class=”fb-xfbml-parse-ignore”><a href=”;set=a.3547422487420.132237.1328293876&amp;type=1″>Post</a&gt; by <a href=””>Lisa R Smith</a>.</div></div>