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'Scaffold' sculpture's wood to be buried, Dakota official says

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Some of the remains as workers tear down "Scaffold" in June.
Some of the remains as workers tear down "Scaffold" in June.
Matt Sepic | MPR News file

Wood from the controversial sculpture "Scaffold" will be buried at an undisclosed location, a Dakota community representative said Friday.

Tribal elders decided the original plan to destroy the work in a ceremonial fire at Fort Snelling was inappropriate, said Ronald P. Leith, a Dakota member who was involved in negotiations over the disposal of the work, which ignited a firestorm of criticism after it was built this spring in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

The structure by artist Sam Durant was intended as a commentary on capital punishment. It referenced gallows used in seven hangings throughout American history, including the execution of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minn., in 1862.

That drew a sharp rebuke from the Dakota community, with leaders saying the work was disrespectful and that they were never consulted about it before its installation. 

After meeting with Dakota elders, the Walker Art Center, which runs the sculpture garden, ordered "Scaffold" removed. Durant has vowed never to erect it again, and has promised to transfer the intellectual property rights to the Dakota people.

Leith on Friday said the method of destroying the sculpture was changed from burning to burial on the redocumentation of Dakota spiritual leader Chief Arvol Looking Horse. 

"He said 'you can't burn it," Leith noted. "You can do anything else: you can bury it, you can give it away, you can make totem poles out of it. But you can't burn it."

The Walker Art Center said it continues to talk with the Dakota community and respects their decision regarding the wood.