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Dakota Nation Debates Whether to Burn Sam Durant’s Scaffold

After a ritual four-day-long dismantling of Sam Durant’s sculpture Scaffold, 2012, by the Dakota Nation, there is talk among tribe members as to whether or not the piece should be burned, as was originally planned, writes Hilarie M. Sheets of the New York Times.

In May, a group of approximately one hundred Native Americans protested Durant’s work when it was installed in the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden. The piece—a composite work of gallows used in the United States between 1859 and 2006—is partially inspired by the structure used to hang thirty-eight Dakotas in Mankato, Minnesota in 1862, the largest mass execution in US history. Durant and the Walker’s director, Olga Viso, were horrified at offending the Dakotas and met with the tribe to see what the museum and the artist could do to make amends. It was agreed upon by all parties that the tribe would dismantle the work and ceremonially burn it. Durant gave the intellectual property rights for the piece over to the Dakotas and promised to never exhibit the work again. “My ignorance of the meaning of Mankato gallows for the Dakota people caused this problem,” said Durant. “I never would have used the Mankato gallows had I contacted representatives from the Dakota community in advance.”

“There is discussion now within the broader Dakota community about whether it should burn or not burn. We’re really clear that it’s for them to decide, not for the Walker or the artist,” said Viso. At the moment, it is unclear as to why the tribe may not want to incinerate the piece.

Stephanie Hope Smith, a mediator between members of the Dakota Nation, the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which co-manages the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and Durant, said in a statement that the Dakotas’ main focus was to take the structure down. Now, that it has been dismantled, the elders “wish to take time, slow down and allow more voices” in the decision-making process.

As a result, Hope Smith confirmed that there will be no wood-burning ceremony at Fort Snelling this week. Until the Dakota community agrees on the best course of action, the wood fragments of Scaffold will be kept in a secure location owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.