In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Dakota Elders Will Oversee Dismantling, Burning of 'Scaffold'

"Scaffold" by Sam Durant at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
"Scaffold" by Sam Durant at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Sculpture tainted Dakota 38 memory, but Dakota elders say this is a teaching moment

A day before what was to have been the celebrated grand re-opening of the Minneapolis Scuplture Garden, Dakota elders will oversee the dismantling of a painfully controversial piece of artwork held within it that ignited onsite protests and a flood of social media criticism.

At an afternoon press conference Wednesday, May 31, it was announced in the Star Tribune that on Friday, June 2, Dakota elders will oversee the dismantling of a 2-story artwork called "Scaffold," a recreation of multiple historic gallows including that on which 38 Dakota men were hanged in an 1862 mass execution in Mankato, Minnesota. A Native-owned construction company is donating it services to begin taking it apart Friday afternoon; the dismantling will take about f4 days.

At a later time, the structure will be reassembled and burned in the Fort Snelling area.

That's exactly what former Lower Sioux tribal chairman and documentary filmmaker Sheldon P. Wolfchild envisioned. He is 1 of the dozen elders who met for 3 hours on May 31 with representatives of the Walker Art Center, the city government, the Parks and Recreation Board, "Scaffold" artist Sam Durant and mediator Stephanie Hope Smith.

"If it was up to me," Wolfchild said, "I would like to see when that's taken down, that it's re-put up by Fort Snelling, then have a ceremony to remember those who were hung ... then burn that structure in effigy to make a statement."

The point of burning the remade gallows near Fort Snelling would be significant because that is where hundreds of Dakota people were held prisoner after the 2-month long violence near Mankato and New Ulm in 1862, followed by forced removal down the Mississippi River and eventually back up and into South Dakota, separating many communities from their ancestral lands. For Wolfchild, the fort holds particular pain because it is where his ancestor, Medicine Bottle, was hanged along with Little Six; they are the 2 killed after the mass execution and remembered as the Dakota 38 + 2.

Mankato, Minnesota, December 26, 1862
Mankato, Minnesota, December 26, 1862
Both artist Durant and Walker Executive Director Olga Viso have apologized for the pain caused by the controversial display of the 2-story artwork, commissioned in 2012 for an art festival in Germany.

At the press conference, Durant further apologized and has committed not to create the gallows again, according to the Star Tribune, which quoted him as saying: "I've done historical and archival research, but I had not met with the people who have been living with this history for 500 years. That was a powerful and moving experience. I just want to apologize for the trauma and suffering that my work has caused in the community. I would say that what we have come together here and negotiated is a path forward and hopefully a path of healing, especially for the Dakota community, and also for building bridges between mainstream, white, Euro-American society and the Native American indigenous communities nationally and on this continent."

"Scaffold" was to be 1 of 18 new pieces added to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, an 11-acre joint effort between the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board within the 19-acre Walker campus.

The sculpture garden was to have a grand re-opening Saturday, June 3 to unveil the new works but that has been delayed until June 10.

Source: indiancountrymedianetwork.com, June 3, 2017

Ceremonial Deconstruction of “Scaffold” at the Walker Sculpture Garden, Friday at 2 p.m.

May 31, 2017 - A news conference at the Walker Art Center announcing the removal of the sculpture “Scaffold” was well attended by local media.

The controversial outdoor sculpture “Scaffold” will start being disassembled on Friday [June 2, 2017], according to a joint statement by Dakota elders, representatives of the Walker Art Center and the artist who created the work. It was part of a mediation agreement, announced today.

The sculpture was to be part of the upcoming Grand Reopening of the Sculpture Garden, but it was quickly engulfed in controversy. The artwork depicts several historic gallows, most prominently the gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato in 1862. Neither the artist nor the Walker thought to ask Dakota people for their reaction. When the sculpture started going up, that reaction came fast and strong.

Please join the ceremonial start of the deconstruction, Friday at 2 p.m. at the Sculpture Garden. It is a large sculpture and it will take four days to remove it completely. The wood will be taken to the Fort Snelling area where there will be a ceremonial burning. That date is yet to be announced.

The Fort Snelling area has great significance to the Dakota people, with both positive and negative reasons. Fort Snelling sits at Bdote, the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, the area central to the Dakota origin story. It also is the site where Dakota women, children and elders were held during the winter of 1862-63 following the Dakota-U.S. War. Hundreds died there.

The artist, Sam Durant, has turned over all intellectual property rights to the sculpture to the Dakota people, and promised never to replicate it.

This is verbatim from the Walker Art Center website:

On Wednesday, May 31, representatives including Dakota Spiritual and Traditional Elders, representatives from the four federally recognized Dakota tribes, the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and the artist Sam Durant issued the following statement. This results from the mediation process voluntarily facilitated by Stephanie Hope Smith, a Minnesota registered neutral mediator who specializes in sacred sites.

This is a report regarding the mediation process that has taken place to address the Scaffold structure.

The artist Sam Durant has committed to never create the Dakota gallows again. He commits to transferring the intellectual property rights of this work to the Dakota Oyate (people).

The Walker Art Center agrees that it does not intend to construct this artwork again. Collectively the work will be dismantled during a ceremony beginning Friday, June 2 at 2 pm led by the Dakota Spiritual Leaders and Elders. It takes at least four days to remove the wood. It will be removed by a native construction company, and the wood will be placed in a fire pile near the remaining steel understructure with signage explaining the mutually agreed upon process until the wood is removed. This native construction company is donating their services, and in exchange the Walker has agreed to match that value to support travel for elders to the ceremony.

The wood will be removed and taken to the Fort Snelling area, because of the historical significance of this site to the Dakota Oyate, where they will ceremonially burn the wood. The location logistics will be determined in a meeting with Steve Elliot, executive director of the Minnesota Historical Society, and the Spiritual and Traditional Dakota Elders The date of this ceremony will be announced as soon as it is confirmed.

During the ongoing consultative process, the remaining understructure of steel and concrete will be removed, which should take several days. Because the Garden is still under construction, modification to the perimeter construction fence will be modified to allow space for the ceremony at the site of the artwork. Space will likely be limited, however the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will assure that there is adequate space for attendees to the ceremony on June 2.

The existing signs that are near the artwork will remain until the entire structure and construction fence are removed. The Walker will collect and distribute the signs as requested by their creators. The grand opening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will be June 10.

Source: Healing Minnesota Stories, Stephanie Hope Smith, May 31, 2017

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