Today marks the 150th anniversary of the largest mass hanging in United States history, carried out in Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862. On that day, 38 Dakota men were executed for their alleged participation in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
This fall, Minneapolis’ All My Relations Gallery presented Ded Unk’unpi: We Are Here, an exhibition of artworks by contemporary Native American artists. Many of the artworks, like James Star Comes Out’s mixed media horse mask sculpture “1862 Sung Ite Ha” (above), comment on the execution of the 38, and on the grief, diaspora and exile of the Dakota people that followed. The artist writes in a statement included in the exhibition:
The horse is respected as it is sacred and empowers the Lakota/ Dakota with its connection with the Wakinyan Oyate (which is important in Lakota/ Dakota belief). In that respect, the sacredness and utilization of the horse is vital in Lakota/ Dakota culture, as representation of honor, pride and value that are used for such ceremonies like a giveaway, honoring, or memorial of a loved one. In past, our ancestors expressed honor and pride by decorating a horse in their finest and given away as a gesture of generosity in honor of loved ones.
With this in mind, I created this piece with the date “1862” in honor and memorial of the 38 Dakota that were hanged in 1862. I have utlized floral designs that represent the Dakota Oyate. Overall, this art piece is a representation of the values and way of life of the Dakota, which defines who we are as a people. But most of all, honoring and remembering what the 38 Dakota went through so our people can live and exist.
Avis Charley’s drawing “For Every Great Man, There is a Great Woman” (above) was also featured in Ded Unk’unpi. In her artist’s statement, Charley writes:
The Dakota War killed many warriors and chiefs. Behind every great man killed was a great woman. During this tragic period in history, the women had to stay strong while ugliness was rampant in their everyday lives from the downhill battle of losing their land and livelihood.
The women represent different generations and the virtues of our Dakota values. These values are courage, honesty, perseverance, and generosity and the message will be about healing, moving forward, and empowering ourselves as Dakota women despite the trauma in our history.
These pieces and more are on exhibit at the Hill House Gallery until January 13, 2013.