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Dakota Nation Will Bury Sam Durant’s Scaffold

Following the four-day dismantling of Los Angeles–based artist Sam Durant’s sculpture Scaffold, which sparked a public outcry after it was installed in the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden earlier this year, the Dakota Nation has decided to bury the controversial piece in a secret location in Minneapolis.

Before the anticipated opening of the center’s sculpture garden in June, more than one hundred American Indians called for the removal of the work, which was inspired by several gallows used in the United States between 1859 and 2006, including a former gallows in Mankato, Minnesota, where thirty-eight Dakotas were sentenced to death in 1862—the largest mass execution in US history.

The backlash prompted Durant and the director of the Walker Art Center, Olga Viso, to meet with several tribal members to discuss the impact of the piece on the community. They ultimately decided to let the Dakota people dismantle the work. Durant transferred his intellectual property rights for the piece over to the nation, and Viso apologized for failing to consult the Dakotas about the work beforehand. She also pledged to increase the center’s outreach to American Indian communities.

Since Scaffold was taken down, Dakota elders have been debating whether to burn the work but have decided against it. “You cannot use fire to destroy anything,” Ron Leith, an elder serving on a council that was formed to determine the fate of the piece, told Sheila M. Eldred of the New York Times. “People do that all the time, but in our tradition once a fire is lit, it’s sacred; it has a life of its own.”

The 51,000 pounds of wood from the sculpture will be kept in an undisclosed location until the elders of the Dakota Nation can agree on a date to bury what remains of the piece.