Genocide and mini-golf in the Walker Sculpture Garden

The Dakota 38 + 2 probably wouldn't feel 'honored' by people playing mini-golf.

The Dakota 38 + 2 probably wouldn't feel 'honored' by people playing mini-golf. Ashley Fairbanks

It was the mockup of kids playing on it that got me.

The language comparing it to a play structure. White folks having a great day on a gallows designed to evoke the exact imagery from the largest mass execution in US history. White folks whose great-greats stood and cheered as those 38 men hung, who went to see Little Crow's remains on display. Now taking selfies on this evil structure.

Their children running up and down the stairs, stairs just like the ones that 38 Dakota men ascended, singing, and never came back down.

I was sitting in my office on Friday afternoon when I got word of the new Sam Durant piece "Scaffold”, installed in the remodeled Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center. I dove deep into everything I could find. Who? What? How? Why? Why was this happening in this city I love?

The answers were predictable. White artist. Dakota pain. Dakota Genocide. White entertainment. I was filled with rage.

It is such evil. It is such absurd violence. It's a publicly-funded hate crime. I can't even explain the layers of hurt.

Those layers were rapidly compounded by white men messaging me, leaving comments about how this piece was such a great example of the benefit of provocative contemporary art. While they were eagerly intellectualizing the pain of indigenous people, while they were shutting out the demands of Dakota people to have the sculpture removed immediately. They proclaimed this piece a success because it opened a conversation for white folks.

As an indigenous artist that does both installation and public artwork, I understand the value of provocative work. But the work of Sam Durant is not art. It is an act of violence. It is a slap in the face of the Dakota people, whose families were hung on a nearly identical gallows in the town square of Mankato. This piece, erected without consultation of the Dakota community, is a reminder that might be a thoughtful conversation/play structure for the white children of Kenwood, but it's a trigger of five centuries of historical trauma in the indigenous community.

Dakota, Anishinaabe, Ho-chunk people gathered outside of the fence of the Sculpture Garden on Friday night. I saw the pain in the eyes of everyone who looked at it, jaw agape. Watching elders see that piece, my heart broke. Watching babies make signs, I didn't want them to know this was the world we live in. I felt hate in my heart. I’ve grown so tired of white people stealing our joy and our time and our energy and not understanding our rage.

White people drove by in their Range Rovers and asked what the Dakota 38 + 2 was, and indigenous people bore the burden of explaining our history, our pain, our trauma to the gentry of Minneapolis. It wasn’t Sam Durant explaining. It wasn’t Walker Art Center director Olga Viso. It was people whose relatives walked up the stairs of those gallows, singing together. Who died with a simultaneous drop to the sound of white applause.

The associate director of the Walker came to the sidewalk that we were filling with signs and chalk. He told us that the Walker felt terrible, that they were eager to talk. That this could be the beginning of a conversation. Olga Viso sent my Dakota friend an email, asking her to coffee. She doesn’t want coffee. She doesn’t want a dialogue. She doesn’t want a valuable lesson for the Walker.

She isn’t a paid consultant here to talk to the Walker about Dakota history, she is the relative of people who were banished from this state as part of a genocidal campaign. It isn’t a moment for coffee. This is a moment to bring the construction equipment back and take down this shameful monument to a brutal day in December 1862.

White people will never understand the cellular level of pain that the death of our people evokes.

How could they? They don’t carry that trauma in their bones. Their ancestors were the ones pulling the lever and buying commemorative postcards of lynchings, not the ones swinging. They cannot understand the hurt we feel.

Which might explain why, when we woke up Saturday morning, the Walker had already removed the signs we created. Erasing indigenous voices once again. They had claimed they were out to start a conversation, to listen to native people, and they had already silenced us, once again.

We are tired of being erased. We are tired of being silenced. We are so sick of the killing, the violence, the pain, the abuse of our planet and our people.

The ongoing genocide that looks like sex trafficking and pipelines and heroin. We don't need a daily reminder of it standing in our city. I pray that someone removes it. I pray that it burns.

Dakota elders should never have the look in their eyes they had yesterday. No one should ever play putt-putt in the shadow of a gallows. No one should ever take a selfie with a tool of genocide.

Ashley Fairbanks lives in Minneapolis. To center Dakota voices and here from the community directly, go to