For over 200 years, non-Natives have appropriated Native American culture for their own intents and purposes. The sphere is wide when it comes to the misuse of Native American culture; appropriation can be seen in sports mascots, fashion and design, product logos; the list goes on and on. The problem with this current mainstream model is that it denies Indigenous people the right to represent their own lifeways and worldview.
The show “Scott Seekins, the New Eden” at the Douglas Flanders and Associates Art Gallery, is being touted as Seekins response to the “Great Sioux Uprising of 1862.” Seekins’s “body of work as an alternative to Minnesota’s tepid 2012 150-year remembrance,” as the gallery touts on its website, is problematic in its interpretation, as it reeks of Native appropriation, and lacks a Native voice.
Scott Seekins, a mainstay of the Minneapolis art scene, is best known for his eccentric dress and demeanor as opposed to the quality of his work. This particular collection of Seekins’s work imitates historic Plains style of drawing (erroneously referred to as ledger art), where he replicates scenes, moves the images around, and inserts himself in a sort of Forrest Gump manner. To be clear, Plains style drawings were a warrior’s record of bravery against the enemy, hunting scenes, courtship, and ceremonial life, these accounts were drawn in accountant ledgers and sketchbooks.
Seekins’s work is the quintessential example of cultural appropriation.
In Seekins’s painting, a clear replica of John Casper Wild’s “Watercolor Painting of Fort Snelling,” (1884), Seekins portrays himself guiding a non-Native woman holding a baby, in the background there are tipis and the fort on the bluff. In another drawing created in the historic Plains graphic style, a Native man has defeated an enemy Calvary, while Seekins, wearing his iconic suit, stands with his arms raised. By placing himself in these historical scenes he positions himself as a mediator and witness. By doing this he disregards the Native American narrative. Considering that this is one of the worst tragedies between the United States Government and American Indians, the U.S. Dakota War of 1862 and its aftermath has had a long lasting impact on the descendants of the Dakota that died. Many Dakota died at Fort Snelling and on the gallows in Mankato, their descendants carry the spirit of their Ancestors with them, they live among us, they are part of us, they are an important part of the Minnesota narrative.
You can read the rest of Joe D. Horse Capture’s article at ICTMN.