Dakota leaders will bury, not burn, that 'Scaffold' sculpture

The tribal leaders are getting rid of it though.

Plans to burn the pieces of a sculpture that sparked a backlash against the Walker Art Center last spring have been scrapped and Dakota tribal leaders now say the wood will instead be buried. 

Just before its newly expanded Sculpture Garden opened in June, the Walker cancelled plans to include the work called "Scaffold" and it was dismantled by Dakota elders.

The sculpture, a commentary on capital punishment, referenced cases of state-sponsored executions – especially the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. 

The sculpture's appearance in Minneapolis led to demonstrations from those offended by it. The Walker quickly agreed to remove "Scaffold" and to let Dakota elders decide how the process would be carried out.

When it was dismantled in June some members of the tribe said the tons of wood used in the sculpture would be burned in a ceremony at Fort Snelling. But in recent days tribal elders have told news media the new plan is to bury the material and not tell people where it is. 

Why not burn it?

The decision about how to dispose of the sculpture's pieces is totally up to the tribe. The New York Times reports the artist, Sam Durant, gave the copyright for "Scaffold" to the Dakota people after apologizing for not consulting them before displaying the sculpture in Minnesota.

The Times says the pieces weigh more than 25 tons and it'll take a crane and two trucks to haul them to a burial place. 

Ronald Leith, who serves on a committee of tribal elders, told the Star Tribune spiritual leader Chief Arvol Looking Horse was adamant that the wood not be burned, saying it would violate Dakota tradition. 

"Of the four elements — fire, water, air, earth — you cannot use any of the elements in a disparaging fashion without putting yourself in a position of being disrespectful," Leith explained. "To use fire to burn this wood that has a negative stigma attached to it — that is not allowed.”

Tribal member Tom LaBlanc tells WCCO the burial will be on private land with nothing to commemorate the spot. “It won’t be memorialized or anything. It’s kind of a positive move on a negative thing,” said LaBlanc. “We gotta heal.”

There's been no official announcement yet on the plans for disposing of the pieces, but the Star Tribune says that's expected on September 12.

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