Shared from the 1/31/2019 Duluth News Tribune eEdition

Lincoln billboard evokes memory of Dakota 38 hanging

Image outside of AICHO taken down at request of the indigenous community


A billboard next to Duluth’s American Indian Community Housing Organization stands covered over Wednesday following complaints by some.

Steve Kuchera /

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed off on the execution of 38 Dakota men in Mankato following the U.S.-Dakota War. It remains the largest mass hanging in U.S. history.

So, when a billboard of Lincoln with the phrase “Humility” appeared on West Second Street just outside Duluth’s American Indian Community Housing Organization, it was not received well by some.

“I think the majority of people don’t know the history,” said Votan Henriquez, one of the indigenous artists behind the mural on the AICHO building. “Indigenous people know what it represents, but the majority of people from another nationality — they probably don’t know.”

Following a stir on social media and several people calling the billboard’s owner, Lamar, the image — a placeholder used in the absence of a paid advertisement — was taken down.

“The original intent of the billboard was to be positive. But with that placement, a couple of people expressed that it wasn’t positive,” said Lamar General Manager Matt Harrold. “It’s not our position to value our opinion over someone else’s in the community.”

AICHO’s Ivy Vainio wrote on Facebook that a Lamar representative told her “they received a few calls about it and they, to me, seemed genuinely apologetic about it.”

She also wrote about a recent meeting with a business leader in the community: “They mentioned how beautiful it was to have the current billboard of President Lincoln next to our building and the mural. I then told him a little about the history. He didn’t know. He was never taught that history. He thanked me for this education.”

The war and hanging received a surge of media coverage in 2012 to commemorate the 150th anniversary, and then-Gov. Mark Dayton spoke at the time in search of reconciliation.

“I ask everyone to remember that dark past; to recognize its continuing harm in the present; and to resolve that we will not let it poison the future,” he said.

The governor of Minnesota in 1862, Alexander Ramsey, had urged Lincoln to allow the execution of 303 prisoners. The president commuted the sentences of all but 38.

Henriquez said that while it may all seem like a long time ago, the lasting impact of the war and exile of the Dakota people from Minnesota continues to affect lives today.

“The most important thing in situations like this is people can accept there has been wrongdoing in history, and they need to be corrected,” Henriquez said. “It’s so difficult for people to apologize and stand corrected and acknowledge their mistakes. And I think that’s part of humility.”

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