The Dakota people offer forgiveness and redemption as part of their peace-embracing culture, and a new sculpture by a Dakota artist brings that healing to Minnesota.

The Walker Art Center and the Dakota community unveiled Saturday a new sculpture in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden that celebrates Dakota culture and language and offers healing from the cultural tone deafness the institute displayed a few years ago when it allowed the gallows exhibit “Scaffold”.

Scaffold was a replica of the one used to hang 38 Dakota in Mankato at the end of the U.S.-Dakota War on Dec. 26, 1862, the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Scaffold was intended to start a discussion on capital punishment, but drew outrage instead from the Dakota and others for its cultural insensitivity and re-traumatization of Native people.

Protesters called it a hate crime. The Walker apologized and allowed it to be dismantled by a Dakota group and buried after a Native ceremony.

The new sculpture, called Okciyapi (Help Each Other), features a 47-foot wide labyrinth with seating and a bubbling fountain in the middle. It includes 24 panels highlighting Dakota words or phrases and people can scan a bar code and hear Dakota speakers. It’s designed to be a gathering space.

The new sculpture, by design, occupies the Scaffold site as part of a healing effort.

The fountain and water in the middle reflects the sky reminding people that the Dakota phrase Mni Sota Makoce for Minnesota means the land where the water reflects the sky.

Okciyapi was designed by Angela Two Stars, a Twin Cities Dakota woman, who grew up South Dakota’s Lake Traverse Reservation and has taken on projects that preserve the Dakota language as the number of people speaking it is declining. “Language is like a drop of water, a ripple across an entire pond,” Two Stars told the Star Tribune.

The Walker deserves credit for forming an Indigenous Public Art Selection Committee that was part of the organization’s reconciliation process stemming from Scaffold. That committee help chose the sculpture. And the center should consider itself a grateful recipient of Dakota forgiveness.

Okciyapi will stand as another poignant and beautiful Dakota contribution to the story of Minnesota and offers more forgiveness and healing from a peaceful people at a time when it is needed more than ever.

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