Dakota 38+2 Prayer Horse

The piece I created was in some ways a response to the Walker Art Center recreating the gallows (that was to be a playground for kids) used to execute 38 Dakota warriors in 1862, which in turned caused the exile of the Dakota people from our homes in Minnesota.

Instead of installing gallows in a Sculpture Garden and calling it a “Scaffold” for children to play on next to a mini golf course, Dakota people remember and honor the past in an entirely different manner.

To Dakota people, dreams continue to be a noble way to receive sacred knowledge: Jim Miller, a Lakota/Dakota spiritual leader had a dream of riding a horse across South Dakota to a riverbank in Minnesota. There he witnessed 38 of his Dakota ancestors hanged on orders of Abraham Lincoln in 1862, in what was the largest mass execution in United States history and thus began the exile of Dakota people from their homeland.

In Spring of 2005, Miller’s horse ride dream became a reality as the first annual “Dakota 38+2 Wokiksuye Memorial Ride”. Ending at the site of the mass hangings in Reconciliation Park of Mankato, MN, the ride began 330-miles away at the Lower Brule Indian Reservation of South Dakota. Through the blizzards of the frigid December winter, Natives and non-Natives rode over the course of 2-weeks in a journey of healing and forgiveness.

I had the opportunity to meet and listen to the Memorial riders during their travels a couple of years ago and from their stories, I learned firsthand the importance of the Horse Nation as the carrier of the people’s prayers, history and memories. The Horse Nation continues to provide strength to many of the riders who had the horse enter their lives and create a meaningful spiritual change in them.

Along with the prayers of the Memorial ride, children are also the Dakota’s hope for the future. Using a message from the actual protest of the “Scaffold”, this piece illustrates the complete inappropriateness to turn genocide into a playground.

Even though it is a disgrace for the gallows to ever have been reconstructed on Dakota land, it is a sign of positive change when the Native and non-Indigenous voices of the Twin Cities join together to successfully protest for a future that respectfully remembers the past.

You can read a bit more about the Memorial Ride here.

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On View:
August 17 – October 29, 2017

Minnesota Museum of American Art | We the People Exhibition

“We the people,” the opening words of the U.S. Constitution, serves as a national slogan and a rallying cry. But who constitutes the “we” in that formative phrase? More to the point, which people and whose stories aren’t represented in the language of national unity?

In response to those questions, independent curator and artist Christopher Harrison, the M’s Diversity in the Arts Fellow Johnnay Leenay, Mary Anne Quiroz (Indigenous Roots Cultural Center), and Maggie Thompson (Two Rivers Art Gallery) present artworks with disparate cultural points of view. Artists include Star Wallowing Bull, Zackary Drucker, Rico Gatson, Susan Hauptman, Nooshin Hakim Javadi, Steve Ozone, and others.

Johnnay Leenay says, “I am positive that each person you ask would define ‘America’ differently. My American experience has been a queer experience, and I know that that identity makes me interact with questions of national identity in a different way.” She goes on: “This exhibition reflects the interpretations of four individuals from four different backgrounds, offering four different definitions of what it means to be American which, when combined, tell a more holistic story of ‘we the people.’”

We the People includes more than 35 pieces in all media–including photography, painting, sculpture, textiles, video, and sound installation. A number of these works point to narratives of LGBTQIA identity and experience, while other works highlight perspectives of indigenous artists and artists of color. During this time of division, the curators’ selections offer a more expansive, inclusive understanding of who we are as a nation, making visible both the fault lines and points of confluence running through our collective body politic.


Artwork by Marlena Myles
Artwork by Marlena Myles
Artwork by Marlena Myles
Artwork by Marlena Myles

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