Local Briefs
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.


In the 1920s, a community conspired to kill Native Americans for their oil money
Tuesday, May 09 2017
Written by By Steve Inskeep/MPR,
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Below are excerpts from National Public Radio’s interview with David Grann, author of the new book “Killers of the Flower Moon”. Radio producer Taylor Haney, radio editor Shannon Rhoades and digital producer Nicole Cohen contributed to the story.

Ernest and Mollie Burkhart married in 1917. Unbeknownst to Mollie, a member of the Osage tribe, the marriage was part of a larger plot to steal her family's oil wealth. (Photo courtesy of Doubleday.)Generations ago, the American Indian Osage tribe was forced to move. Not for the first time, white settlers pushed them off their land in the 1800s. They ended up in a rocky, infertile area in northeast Oklahoma in hopes that settlers would finally leave them alone.

As it turned out, the land they had chosen was rich in oil, and in the early 20th century members of the tribe became spectacularly wealthy. They bought cars and built mansions; they made so much oil money that the government began appointing white guardians to “help” them spend it.

And then Osage members started turning up dead.

In his new book, “Killers of the Flower Moon”, David Grann describes how white people in the area conspired to kill Osage members in order steal their oil wealth, which could only be passed on through inheritance. “This was a culture of complicity,” he says, “and it was allowed to go on for so long because so many people were part of the plot. You had lawmen, you had prosecutors, you had the reporters who wouldn’t cover it, you had oilmen who wouldn’t speak out, you had morticians who would cover up the murders when they buried the body, you had doctors who helped give poison to people.”

How the conspiracy worked
What makes these crimes so sinister is that it involved marrying into families. It involved a level of calculation and a level of betraying the very people you pretended to love. And the way these murders would take place is that people would marry into the families and then begin to kill each member of the family. That's exactly what happened to Osage woman Mollie Burkhart. She had married a white man, and his uncle was the most powerful settler in the area. He was known as the King of the Osage Hills... and he had orchestrated a very sinister plot played out over years where he directed his nephew, who had married Mollie Burkhart, to marry her so that he could then begin to kill the family members one by one and siphon off all the wealth.

How Mollie Burkhart’s family was killed
One day in 1921, her older sister disappeared and Mollie looked everywhere for her and couldn’t find her. And about a week later, her body was found essentially in a ravine, decomposed. She’d been shot in the back of the head.

Then just a few weeks later, Mollie’s mother began to grow increasingly sick. She seemed to be almost disappearing, withering in front of her. And within two months she, too, had died. And evidence later suggested that she had been secretly poisoned.

Not long after that, Mollie was sleeping in her bed in her house with her white husband; they had a couple children. And she heard a loud explosion. She got up in panic and terror. She had another sister who lived not far away, and in the area where her sister’s house was she could see almost this orange fire ball rising into the sky. It almost looked as if the sun had burst into the night. And her sister’s house had been blown up killing that sister as well as her sister’s husband and a servant who lived in that house.

How far the conspirators went to cover up their crimes
Almost anyone who tried to investigate the killings – or at least stop them in the area – they, too, were killed. One attorney tried to gather evidence and one day he was thrown off a speeding train and all the evidence that he had gathered had disappeared. Another time, an oilman had traveled to Washington, D.C., to try to get help. He checked into a boarding house in Washington, D.C. He was then found the next day stripped naked. He had been stabbed more than 20 times; his head had been beaten in. The Washington Post at the time said what everyone at that point knew, which was there was a conspiracy to kill rich Indians.

killers-of-the-flower-moon.jpgHow authorities reacted to the deaths
It’s really important to understand back then that there was so much lawlessness. That was one of the things that shocked me when I began researching the story, that even in the 1920s much of America remained a country that was not fully rooted in its laws. Its legal institutions were very fragile; there was enormous corruption, particularly in this era and in this area. And the conspirators were able to pay off lawmen, they were able to pay off prosecutors. There was so much prejudice that these crimes were neglected.

Mollie Burkhart beseeched the authorities to try to investigate, to get help, but because of prejudice they often ignored the crimes. And she issued money for a reward, she hired private investigators, but the crimes for years remained unsolved, and the body count continued to increase. By 1924 there were at least 24 murders alone.

Finally, the Osage, in desperation, they issued a resolution, a tribal resolution, beseeching the federal authorities to help. And finally a then-very obscure branch of the Justice Department intervened. It was known as the Bureau of Investigation and it was what would later be renamed the FBI.

The FBI’s investigation
J. Edgar Hoover was the new director, and it became one of the FBI’s first major homicide cases that it ever dealt with. The bureau initially badly bungled the case. Hoover turned the case over to a frontier lawman at the time who finally put together an undercover team that included probably the only American Indian agent in the bureau at the time. They went undercover. They were able, through some dogged investigation and at great danger, to eventually capture some of the ringleaders. And those ringleaders included not only Mollie Burkhart’s husband, it also included his uncle, a man who was seen as this great protector of the community.

What the FBI missed in their investigation
The bureau was so anxious to wrap up the case that they ignored many, many other unsolved crimes and many, many other killers. When you begin to look at the documents and you begin to collect the evidence from the Osage, it becomes abundantly apparent.

I pulled some of the guardian papers and there was this little booklet that came out. It had a little fabric cover. All it was was essentially identifying the name of a guardian and which Osage they were in charge of. And when I opened up the book, I could see the name of the guardian and when I began to look at the names of the Osage under them I could see written next to many of them simply the word “Dead. Dead. Dead.” It was almost like a ledger; it was like this forensic, bureaucratic accounting.

But when you’re looking at it, you’re beginning to realize you’re looking at hints of a systematic murder campaign, because there’s no way all these people died in a span of just a couple years. It defied any natural death rate. The Osage were wealthy, they had good doctors. And then when you begin to look into each of those individual cases, you start to find trails of evidence suggesting poisonings, a murder. You start to try to trace the money and where the wealth went. And what you begin to discover is something even more horrifying than the bureau ever exposed.

To hear the interview with the author, see:

June Powwows
Tuesday, May 09 2017
Written by The Circle,
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June 2
American Indian Magnet School Powwow

American Indian Magnet School’s Traditional Powwow will be held at the American Indian Magnet School, 1075 3rd St. E., St. Paul. Free and open to the community. For info, call 651-293-5191.

June 2-4
Saa Gii Ba Gaa Traditional Powwow

MC: George Strong. AD: Lance Kingbird. Host Drum: Drift Traditional. 5344 Lakeshore Drive, Nett Lake, MN. For info, call Louise Isham at 218-757-3261.

June 2-4
Rice Lake Traditional Powwow

MC: Murphy Thomas. AD: Allen Hardy. Host Drum: Brown Eagle. Bagley/Rice Lake, MN. For info, call Henry  Fox at 218-407-2729 or Tony Auginaush at 218-308-3306.

June 2-4
Seven Clans Casino Warroad Powwow

Kaabekanong (Warroad) hosts the Annual Warroad Traditional Powwow, presented by the Red Lake Nation. Drum groups: Eyabay of Red Lake and the P-Town Boys, among others. 34966 605th Ave., Warroad, MN. For info, call 800-815-8293.

June 9-11
149th Annual White Earth Powwow

Traditional powwow. Tribal Grounds, White Earth, MN. For info, call 800-950-2587.

June 16-18
Grand Casino Contest Powwow

Grand Entries: Friday at 7 pm, Saturday at 1 pm & 7 pm, Sunday at 1 pm. World Jingle Dress Championship. Host Drum: Little Otter. Invited Drums: Pipestone from LCO WI, Whitefish Bay from Ontario, and The Boys from the Twin Cities. Campsites are available at the powwow grounds, showers available at RV Park. Powwow Grounds, Grand Casino Hinckley,  777 Lady Luck Dr., Hinckley, MN. For info, call 800-384-4475, ext. 4574.

June 23-25
Lake Vermilion Traditional Powwow

MC: Terry Goodsky and Royalty. Host Drum: Lake Vermilion and Burntside. Friday: Warm ups. Saturday: Grand Entries at 1 pm & 7 pm. Sunday: Grand Entry at 1 pm.  Lake Vermilion Powwow Grounds, Lake Vermilion, MN. For info, call Muriel Deegan at 218-750-7772.

June 30-July 2
Oneida Contest Powwow

Over $91,000 in prize money. MC: Terry Fiddler. MC: Wallace Coffey. AD: Sateko Danforth. and Darrell Goodwill. Grand Entries: Friday at 7 pm, Saturday at 1 pm and 7 pm, Sunday at noon. Public is welcome. Weekend Pass, $15. Daily Pass, $8. 60 & older, free. 5 & under, free. Norbert Hill Center, N7210 Seminary Rd., Oneida, WI. For info, call 920-496-5311 or 800-236-2214.

June 30 - July 2
39th Annual Red Cliff Traditional Powwow

Grand Entries: Friday at 7 pm, Saturday at 1 pm and 7 pm, Sunday at 1 pm. Feast on Saturday at 5 pm. Free camping in designated areas. Red Cliff Powwow Grounds, Hwy 13 (3 miles north of Bayfield), Red Cliff, WI. For info, call 715-779-3700.

Joseph Croud
Tuesday, May 09 2017
Written by The Circle,
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Joseph Croud
May 2, 1947 - April 14, 2017

joseph-croud-obituary.jpgJoseph Croud “Ogema Binais”, was born in Park Rapids, MN, on May 2, 1947, to John and Maggie (Sailor) Croud. He walked peacefully from this life at Lake City, MN, on April 14, 2017, in the arms of his children and his ancestors.

Joseph was a man of many talents. He was an artist, a traditional flute and headroach maker, and a collector of history about his family and his community. He worked as a lumberman; on a city maintenance crew; as a social service worker for Mary Hall and the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul, for the Thunderbird/Wren House in Duluth, and at a drop-in center in Cloquet; as an historical interpreter for the Minnesota Historical Society at the North West Fur Post in Pine City; and, when called upon, as a teacher of Anishinaabe arts and culture, especially for many years at the Science Museum of Minnesota and at the education day for the Mahkato Wacipi in Mankato.

Joseph loved his family, his friends, his community, and inspired love in return. He shared his wisdom when it would be appreciated. He loved to hunt for agates or just sit quietly with one of his children and drink coffee. He loved to be in nature. He was a man of quiet dignity. He did not like restrictions or being told what to do and he would not tolerate being treated with disrespect. Joseph had a short bucket list left unfinished. He had wanted to go fishing and he wanted to dance at a few more powwows. He will be remembered for his wit and humor, his love for his children, his ingenuity, his creativity and art, his skills as a listener, and for his wisdom.

He is survived by his children Sarah, Maggie, Solomon and Josette; treasured grandchildren Noelani and Konapiliahi Croud, and Damian Tsinnijinnie; sister Sara Clark, wife Jeanne; Lili Eustis and Margaret Waller, many nieces and nephews, and a very large circle of loving family and friends. Joseph was preceded in death by his parents John and Maggie Sailor Croud, and sisters, Catherine Adams, Bernice Croud, and Sylvia Croud. He joins in the spirit world beloved nieces and nephews: Jackie Adams, Sean Adams, John Bradley Croud, David Croud, Tim Annette and Jeanenne Harper.

The wake was held April 17 at the old Pine Point school. A funeral ceremony was held April 18 also at the school.

Kathryn Sage Montana
Tuesday, May 09 2017
Written by The Circle,
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Kathryn Sage Montana
March 17, 1986 – April 2, 2017

kathryn-montana.jpgKathryn Sage Montana was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was known as Sage to most of her family and friends. The second child of Gary J. Montana and Linda M. Nichols-Montana, she was the apple of her father’s eye. Always riding with him somewhere even as a baby. Sage oved taking rides in the city late at night when she could not sleep. She loved people and loved to help others. She had an infectious smile and laugh and she loved to tease and be teased.  

She graduated from high school with the Class of 2004. Sage attended the University of Minnesota and graduated with a BS in Social Services. She also attended the Aveda Institute of Cosmetology in Minneapolis, where she graduated and gave the commencement speech for the Class 2010. Sage moved to the Lower Brule Tribe of South Dakota where she worked at a woman’s shelter. In her leisure time Sage loved to play basketball, bead with her mother, ride horses, sing country songs, and dance jingle at powwows. And above all, she loved to spend time with her son, Mahto. Recently Sage had just accepted a positon as a woman’s domestic abuse facilitator at the Ho-Chunk Nation and was very excited about the challenges that lay before her. Her passion was helping others and especially Native American women and children. 

Kathryn is survived by her mother Linda Nichols-Montana of Minneapolis, MN; her father Gary J. Montana and youngest sister, Marisol Montana of Osseo, WI; her step mother Rachel Walsh of Black River Falls, WI, step brother Xavier Puzon of Madison, WI; her siblings Ian Montana, Molly Montana, niece Sophie Montana-Wadena, nephew Colt Montana-Stout of Minneapolis, MN; her sister Sierra Montana of Duluth, MN; her aunt Lynda Kingery-West of Eagle Butte, SD; uncle Ron Volesky of Huron, SD, cousins Taylor, Tucker, Turner and Tyler; and most importantly, her son Milton Mahto-Luta Spears of Bloomington, MN. She also leaves behind her special daughters from the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation in SD.

Sage is preceded in death by a baby that was born in 2013 and passed shortly after conception; paternal grandparents, Kate and Vern Pigney of Blunt, SD; grandmother Sophie Penny-Brown; grandfather Elmer Nichols of White Horse, SD; great-grandmother, Mary Bagola of Eagle Butte, SD and Dennis Pigney her uncle from Davenport, IA.

Native American services for Kathryn Sage Montana were held April 8 at the Grand Occasions Event Center, in Osseo, Wisconsin.


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