The dark side of our Sesquicentennial: ethnic cleansing and a concentration camp

Sesqui_logo I see Northfield librarian Debby Nitz has posted to the Northfield.org blog that the MN Sesquicentennial Banner will be in Northfield Thursday evening and Friday this week. I plan to be there, taking photos and contributing to the journal.

I’m all for celebrating our state’s sequicentennial but there’s another aspect to the celebration that needs attention.

nativeam150-sshotI’m doing some work for the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission, trying to raise the level of awareness and understanding about the dark side of Minnesota’s Statehood in 1858 and, in the words of the Commission, “… acknowledge the pain, loss and suffering of the Native American culture in Minnesota.” (I launched a blog site last week called Native American Minnesota: A journey of learning and understanding.)

Here’s some background from St. Olaf’s environmental studies web site: Before Euro-American Settlement:  Native Americans in Rice County:

Chief Visiting Eagle Before Alexander Faribault became the first Euro-American to settle in the area now known as Rice County, the only ethnic group living there was a tribe of Dakota (or Sioux) Indians known as the Wapakoota.  In the Dakota language, Wapakoota means “the shooters in the leaves of indigenous pines.”  The Wapakoota were the smallest of all the Dakota tribes living in Minnesota at this time. The Wapakoota lived off the land, using sustainable living methods like other Dakota tribes.  Their largest settlement in Rice County was concentrated around present day Cannon Lake. 

When the Traverse-des-Sioux treaty was enacted in 1851, most of the Wapakoota were removed from the county, although several stayed and lived on land provided for them by Alexander Faribault. The rapid change in cultures in Rice County at this time resulted in a marked change in the physical landscape of the area, from prairie and forest to agricultural land.  The Wapakoota chief at the time of the Traverse-des-Sioux treaty was Chief Visiting Eagle. The last person from the Wapakoota tribe left Rice County in 1859.

IMG_0575It’s easy to overlook the phrase “…the Wapakoota were removed from the county” but that’s often a euphemism for ‘ethnic cleansing.’  The practice really ramped up after the U.S. – Dakota Conflict of 1862. Most of us know about the mass execution at Mankato after that war ended but not many of us (including me, until recently) know about the concentration camp at Fort Snelling (it’s usually referred to an ‘internment camp’) where nearly 2,000 Dakota (mainly women and children) were held during the winter after the war. Hundreds died. (Minnesotans apparently ‘invented’ the concentration camp (left photo from a display at Ft. Snelling State Park), the “… whole new social practice of concentrating innocent civilians into an area and imprisoning them for protracted periods without charging them with any crime.”)

Survivors were then shipped to South Dakota on barges and railroad cars and a $25 bounty was placed on the heads of any Dakota remaining. Minnesota Governor Ramsey stated that “The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State.”

I’m really glad the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission has included this on their May is American Indian Month in Minnesota web page:

Minnesotans pride themselves today on living in a state that is forward-thinking and compassionate. We have become a haven for refugees from countries where genocide still occurs. We recoil at the holocausts of World War I and II, and the more recent acts of savagery in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Yet we remain either unaware of or unable to look at our own history and acknowledge the painful wounds of ethnocide and genocide right here in Minnesota. We have a very hard time acknowledging that the pain remains and that it has affected much of our history thru to the present day.

50 thoughts on “The dark side of our Sesquicentennial: ethnic cleansing and a concentration camp”

  1. One of my favorite quotations from the period of settlement—and one of the most heartbreaking—comes from Chief Wabasha, who reacted to the U.S. government’s plans for Indian removal by telling the government’s representatives: “You have named a place for our home, but it is a prairie country. I am a man accustomed to woods. I do not like the prairies.”

  2. This is certainly a humbling addition to the romantic discussions of the area’s proud agricultural traditions. It seems that if we want to honor the area’s past we should get rid of the dam, stop farming and let the land grow back — and maybe give it back to its rightful owners.
    Sure, that’s not practical, but it is a reminder that none of us carries a perfect truth, a perfect heritage, a perfect use of the land, or a perfect set of beliefs. Think of the Lutherans and Catholics and Methodists who divided up the tribal children, took them from their families and their faith and culture and raised them in cruel boarding schools. And this wasn’t the distant past. I have met people in their 50s and 60s whose lives were wrecked by this ‘progressive’ thinking and who are desperately trying to capture the knowledge of the elders before they die and their language and heritage are gone. It is inspiring and heartbreaking to see.
    What a fitting entry in light of the discussions on snobbishness and annexation.

  3. Anne: “It seems that if we want to honor the area’s past we should get rid of the dam, stop farming and let the land grow back — and maybe give it back to its rightful owners.” Sounds like an equitable plan to me. However, we can’t all go back to wherever “we came from,” so maybe a better plan is to honor the Earth and the way we all lived pre-agriculturally/pre-industrially, and to live as lightly as possible on the land.

    We can start with dam removal–we’ll hear about that this morning at the NDDC forum. I wouldn’t advocate stopping farming–you can’t feed 6.7 billion hunter/gatherers on this planet–but I would advocate more sustainable agricultural practices. This could include “let(ting) the land grow back” as in patch burn bison grazing of restored prairie.

    And as for “giv(ing) it back to its rightful owners–see Tribe is reclaiming a lost legacy in Sunday’s Strib. Right on!

    Thanks, Griff, for this important reminder of the dark side of Minnesota’s founding.

  4. Atrocities and heroism were abundant on both sides of the conflict, of course. The tipping point was that Dakota children and elders were dying of starvation while food was available, warehoused by the gov’t, waiting for the Federal annuity payments to arrive.

    During the war, Indians not only attacked the forts/soldiers but went farmhouse to farmhouse, killing the men and sometimes women and children. Many mixed-bloods tried to save white settlers. After the war, when the Dakota women and children were marched to Fort Snelling, soldiers sometimes abused them and other times protected them from the irate citizenry as they marched through towns.

    Some argue that to label the camp at Ft. Snelling a ‘concentration camp’ puts it in the same category as the Nazi concentration camps where millions died. But to just call it an ‘internment camp’ arguably puts it in the same category as the Japanese American internment camps after Pearl Harbor where few died.

    In 1988, the US apologized for the Japanese American internment and disbursed $1.6 billion in reparations to survivors and heirs.

    No such apology thus far for Native Americans, either from the MN or US gov’t.

  5. Griff, I am so glad that you have posted this. We do need to pay more attention to these events. As a historian I am always appalled that the dark side or the controversial side of history is never given enough attention. There is a great series of books out now written by local author John Koblas on the 1862 Conflict titled, Let them Eat Grass. The first book is out now and the final two books are going to be available around May 15.
    We did a presentation on the 1862 Conflict last year and I have been throwing around the idea of doing another one since the final two books are coming out.

  6. How far have we come? We count our own dead and wouned in war, we counted “our own” (and international) casualities on our own soil on 9/11/01, but we resist and argue over attempts to count Iraqi civilian casualties (those folks we were going to “liberate”). 100,000? 1,000,000?

    It was seen by some as “progress” when freed slaves counted as three-fifths of a person. We compensate families of innocent Iraqi casualites with maybe a thousand bucks.

    John Edgar Wideman (an African-American author) said shortly after 9-1 in a Harper’s article that Iraqis, Afghanis and the like are “the new niggers of the world.”

    Life in the fast lane of the first-world is worth a bunch; our economy depends, in too many ways, on cheap labor –folks whose work, and whose lives, are just not worth as much as ours in the “eyes” of the market.

    Then the more mainstream US economists tell us we are doing folks a favor in “under-developed” countries by paying them those cheap wages and lifting them up a bit. A hypnotizing shell-game; we can get bargains at Wall*Mart and tell ourselves we’re helping the poor.

    Kind of like those who said that slavery and assimilation of native populations was doing them a favor, as they were merely savages. Teach them to trade survival of the fittest in the (literal) jungle, plain or forest, for survival of the fittest in Adam Smith’s metaphorical jungle, complete with running water, ceramic toilets, shoes, and now — TV.

    Get ’em a hydroelectric plant in their country, and some modern roads, so we can build a factory and have ’em come work for some corporation; then they’ll be developed. They can get TV’s. They can forget about their oral traditions, folk songs and folk-dances once they see “American Idol” and “The Simpsons.”

    The US has a long history of treating people who are not like us as if their lives are cheap. If we can’t exploit them for cheap labor, and if they get in our way, they’re expendable (think Philippines, banana republics…).

    If we look back and remember the 1800’s as dark years, the least we can do is notice some similarities that have persisted. How far have we really come?

  7. Paul, I’m guessing that excessive cheerfulness is not a problem for you.

    I’m wondering what you’re talking about regarding freed slaves counting as three fifths of a person. I think that slaves counting as 3/5 of a person is from a compromise in framing the Constitution. Slave holding states wanted slaves to count as one person. Non slave holding states didn’t want them to count at all. This was important because it affected the number of seats in the House of Representatives, tax distributions, etc. The 3/5 compromise resulted in slave holding states getting too much power. Am I missing something?

  8. Curt: You’re right: non-freed slaves/compromise. My bad.

    And regarding your comment about “excessive cheerfulness”: LOL! Very appropriate, considering. I’ve been reading many student essays on serious subjects. It was a serious day. I meant much of what I said, but the picture I painted was too dark.

    Let me try again:
    Now we let ’em run casinos so’s we can gamble. Everybody’s happy. Everybody wins. Kinda.

    Opps, you didn’t see the look in my eye and the smile on my face as I typed that.

    (I read that them white folks is gettin’ nervous in Shakopee or thereabouts, now that some of the gambling revenue is going toward land purchases…. there goes the neighborhood? Look who’s coming to the pow-wow? Yes, we have a ways to go….)

    A better example:

    Did you hear, Monday on MPR, about the death of the African-American woman, Mildred Loving, who had married a white man in D.C. in the ’60’s, moved back to Virginia with him, and was arrested with her husband; together they brought a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court, which ended any laws in any state against inter-racial marriage. The case was Loving vs. Virginia.

    I remember a friend of my parents who had marrried a white woman in the late 1950’s or early ’60’s. They didn’t move to Virginia. They went un-arrested in MN. He is a lawyer. Now there’s a point of light. They didn’t have it easy, though.

    The MPR story included something about New York City (and other places?) observing “Loving Day” to mark the day of the Supreme Court decision. Good idea. Let’s observe it in Northfield, too. (Not catching on in many places yet, but I won’t get too dark about that…).

    Curt, there are so many points of light out there, and it makes me chuckle and think of George H.W. Bush when I realize it. (It’s a great blessing when folks who are no big fans of the Georges can chuckle when they think of them.)

    Much progress has been made in many quarters. I have students of many nationalities, and not too many of them are racist in any obvious way toward their classmates. Just a few.

    Then we hear about nooses at schools and work-places: “Oh, get over it; everybody knew it was just a joke.” Right.

    New injustices are being committed all the time. That’s life. While critters in nature (including us?) may evolve and adapt to circumstances, there’s no guarantee that cultures and justice will stay on an upward slope.

    But like the French police chief in the hospital mental ward in the original Pink Panther films (with Peter Sellers), sometimes it helps to repeat: “In every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” Clearly, he wasn’t, but it was funny to see the spoof of positive thinking.

    Clearly, excessive cheerfulness can sometimes be a very good thing.

  9. Griff,

    He was not presenting there he was working with a middle school class on a book they are writting about the escape route of the James-Younger Gang.

    Do not fret.

  10. As an immigrant to MN, I must say this is a great state; I really believe that. What looks like a fear of conflict is something that “outsiders” always say about MN, but when I was in school in IL, I learned that one of the great Socialist movements in the US, The IWW, (International Workers of the World or Wobblies) was centered in the Eastern European immigrants of MN’s Iron Range, and it was a Proud and useful tradition.
    But there are always things that states , in their history, are glad to not emphasize if not actually hide. Look at the lynchings of African- Americans in Duluth … was it the 20’s?. Many Minnesotans today have no knowledge of that.
    In Illinois the coal mining industry used children in the most horrific and dangerous ways, depending on their smallness (age 7 and up) to get into crevices where adults couldn’t fit. And the child labor laws were fairly late in coming, supposedly due to the power of the economics of the coal industry, and the cities of Chicago and Springfield were not worrying about much that went on, out of sight, in the vast “wasteland” in between.

    We are still denigrating our Native American populations in the most dismissive ways, ignoring the severe impacts on health, education, and social privilege, AND often blaming them for making life style choices which seem to be in conflict with acquisitive main stream America. The appreciation and freedom of lifestyle choices which don’t dispute religious or social organization structures of groups like the Amish , are often denied to Native Americans, whether on or off reservations.

    There is far too much identification of groups of human beings as “other” in our society, and it poisons the capacity for a “richness” that has nothing to do with money.

  11. Kiffi: You wrote, “The appreciation and freedom of lifestyle choices which don’t dispute religious or social organization structures of groups like the Amish , are often denied to Native Americans, whether on or off reservations.” Agreed.

    I wonder if some of this flows from the process of war and conquest: We never had to demonize the Amish as an enemy and take land from them, so we get along with them fine. But we did demonize Native Americans as “savages” and take land from them, so maybe the habits of thought that form when a society and culture prepare for war have a way of hanging around for a long time afterward, maybe as an ego-defense. We keep demonizing and marginalizing them so we don’t have to face our collective or inherited guilt.

    For those who want to read more on Native American stuff, there’s a lot that’s very popular and accessible, including Louise Erdrich (my favs, Tracks and Bingo Palace), Susan Power (Grass Dancer), Sherman Alexie (Tonto and the Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven), James Welch (lots of good stuff) and Diane Glancy . I tend to like fiction. But I also like Ian Frasier, author of The Great Plains, who also wrote On the Rez. These authors may not be as accessible as dimestore novels, but they’re fairly mainstream.

    Griff, a belated thanks for your good reflections in comment #4.

  12. Kiffi…
    The wobblies were indeed an important part of the labor movement in the early 20th century. They were a force on the iron range, staging the Mesabi strike around 1917. There were central european members, but on the range, the leadership was predominately Finnish. But no need to quible about ethnic origin…they were open to all…at a time when the competing unions were native, white male enclaves.

    Their origins were primarily in the West, especially in mining. They were also strong in the maritime industry. One of the strongest and most progressive unions in the country, the west coast longshoremen, is a direct decendent of the IWW.

    Government repression pretty much did them in. Although infighting between genuine revolutionary types and lunch bucket unionists played a part.

  13. In every instance I can readily think of, the social problem comes when someone, or some group, is identified as “other”. And the less they look like “us”, the more “other” they are.

    Isn’t that relevant to the Amish/ Native American issue, Paul?

    Having just done my reading for my Elder Collegium class, “The Age of Enlightenment”, it is hard to accept the level at which half of humanity was treated as “other” … women of course … and how evening out that situation took a lot longer than discovering the Newtonian Laws of Physics, and is an ongoing process, still.

    Why are we so tolerant of the “other” status that we tolerate white slavery, the selling of children as sexual objects, the sexual marketing of young women who think they are coming to this country for jobs, the Mainstream communications companies who make a huge share of their profits from their pay-for-pornography TV channels in Major hotel chains, and as a matter of fact … I don’t think it’s prudishness to question why adult pornography is legal in this country. Think of all the attendant crime, and victimization, that surrounds the pornography industry in this country, and others. Pornography is not a victimless situation.

    There are the obvious “others” who have been discriminated against, and then there are the less obvious “other”s, who we are too embarrassed to talk about under the guise of limiting some others’ freedoms.

    If you take away one person’s freedom in order to give a “freedom” to another … What does the word FREEDOM mean?

  14. Kiffi- Now you are on a band wagon I would be delighted to climb onto, in fact, I’m going to. This whole issue of pornagraphy as a freedom of speech and artistic expression (I’ve heard this defense, but not in a while) is, IMNSHO, a bunch of bunk. This is one area I wish the ACLU would not defend. If an adult wants to imerse him(her)self in this stuff, I suppose they have the choice to do so. But I really take unbridge with those who defend it as an acceptable pastime. I know about it. I had a real problem with this in my formative years, and I can understand how people can get hooked on it. The best defense against it is to not get exposed to it in the first place, especially for adolescents. That is getting more and more difficult with the advent of the internet and the seemingly innocent appearance of many pornographic websites. It is also really difficult in our permissive society to get away from it even in public. Sexual images are used to sell almost everything out there, so we end up getting dulled to it. Unfortunately, it is my generation who threw out the societal restraints on this in the ’60’s & ’70’s. There is no such thing as “free love”, or sexual expressions of it without consequences. This new “freedom” has cost our society dearly in the young lives it has marred forever. And you hit the nail squarely on the head in saying that it is a profitable business. I think this is the new “slavery” from which we need emancipated. Thanks for bringing it up.

  15. Hayes Scriven said:

    As a historian I am always appalled that the dark side or the controversial side of history is never given enough attention.

    The issue is not getting attention, once again. I can’t find much on Native Americans, or Indians, on this site Minnesota Sesquicentennial. More: The blog I find is this one Minnesota Sesquicentennial Blog.

    Go ahead and try to find Griff’s blog on the sesqui pages. Maybe I am missing an obvious link… but I don’t think so.

    I’m disappointed in whoever makes the decisions about what is included in the sesqui material. To leave out something this important is racism in disguise. It’s also furthers “partial truth”. Sick. Marching people from Mankato to Ft. Snelling and then keeping them camped up until many die sounds pretty ominous, no matter what you label it.

    I used to think treatment of that sort wasn’t the way it’s done in the US. Go ahead and google “abu ghraib” and you’ll see troubling pictures and a troubling situation. We might not have learned any lessons from what happened to the Indians at Snelling. Maybe that’s because we shoved it under the rug?

    I think Paul’s comment about the 2/3rds of a person might have been used to show an example where people were reduced to lesser beings. I suppose 2/3rds was a step in the right direction, but it was really too small of a step. I think there shoudn’t have been that compromise. It’s just dumb to say that some people only count as 2/3rds, and dumb to say “we had to do it that way.”

    Minnesota: We’ve had Grangers, etc. who have done good things. Lots should be included in sesqui material. IWW (or whatever that is) should be included, too. But we should include the whole truth. It wasn’t pretty at the beginning.

    Reconciliation? We might start by lifting up the rug and seeing what’s been shoved under there. It’s the only way to really reconcile, I think… money isn’t exactly the answer unless it leads to better circumstance, better future, better understanding, and more respect.

    So, changing minds and working for inclusion, etc. has to be a lot of it… yes? Now to figure out how to be inclusive AND still celebrate difference.

  16. Holly, I was pretty pleased to see that the official statement posted on the Sesqui web site last week re: May being American Indian Month in MN included some pretty strong language, including the ‘G’ word:

    Yet we remain either unaware of or unable to look at our own history and acknowledge the painful wounds of ethnocide and genocide right here in Minnesota. We have a very hard time acknowledging that the pain remains and that it has affected much of our history thru to the present day.

    Now if we could get a formal apology via the MN Legislature and the Governor, that would help a great deal.

    Kiffi/George,  I’m thinking about doing a blog post re: porn in Northfield, so let’s save the conversation on that issue.

  17. Griff, was that American Indian Month link someplace on the mn150 website? Perhaps it was in the “visit our sponsors” section. I can’t find it on the main page in the links section. Help me out.

  18. Kiffi: You wrote, ‘And the less they look like “us”, the more “other” they are.’

    I’m sure that ‘s part of it. But as Holly noted with Abu Ghraib, I think there’s another dynamic we layer on top of that: There’s a part of us that doesn’t like to kill people or remove them from their land. If we’re ordered to do so, there’s a defense mechanism that kicks in. We begin to have contempt for those we persecute; this was observed among Nazi guards. Why do human beings do that?

    A friend of mine tells a story to illustrate how we resolve cognative dissonance: His daughter goes to visit her grandparents, who she loves dearly. The young daughter also loves stuffed animals, teddy bears and bunny rabbits. The grandparents live on a farm. After spending some time outside with grandpa, she goes in to help grandma in the kitchen. After a while, she hears a gunshot. She looks out, and grandpa has shot a rabbit (he likes rabbit stew).

    How should the girl resolve her cognitive dissonance? Should she hate the grandfather for shooting the cute bunny, who is dead (it would not help the bunny).

    Without anything like this kind of explicit reflection, the little girl quickly concludes: “That mean bunny. It must have been a mean bunny.” Now grandpa can be her hero, and there’s no need to deal with the country-kid issues of hunting and animal slaughter.

    So yes, if the skin color, physical and cultural features are more “other,” we may be more inclined to fear or distrust a certain individual or group.

    But like the little girl demonizing the bunny to save Grandpa, we may tend to demonize (even after the war is over) those former enemies we defeated, and/or whose land we’ve taken. Or to demonize “those black kids with their rap music” — “they’re not like us”; they seem to be trying pretty hard NOT to be like us…). If some part of our minds holds on to the idea that they may be “part savage,” then we don’t have to feel too guilty about the slave ships and all those years of slavery.

    Must be a mean bunny.

    On NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” the topic today was race, but the LA guests emphasized that we have to deal with racism on a person-to-person basis. There may be some truth in that, but it’s very insular, very go-it-alone, the cowboy-individualist approach (very American).

    Maybe, instead, the people we need to welcome into any discussion of race and genocide is a bunch of kind-hearted Hindus who believe in reincarnation: Maybe, in a past life, we worked on a slave ship, or were slave-traders, or slave-owners. Maybe we rounded up Cherokee and led them on their forced march to Oklahoma along the trail of tears, or guarded Dakota at Ft. Snelling, or were in the crowd of spectators yelling hateful slurs at the hanging in Mankato. Maybe in this life, we have the chance to repair some of the damage we did in our past lives.

    (I s’pose the Judeo/Christian version is about the sins of the parents being passed down to the 10th generation, or the like… but it’s not as clear who is responsible to fix the curse as in the Hindu faith….)

  19. Griff…
    An apology by the governor/legislature would be a step in the right direction. And opening up the whole discussion as a part of this celebration is admirable.
    Discussions and apologies need to include reference to solutions- to justice for those groups harmed. In the world we live, an important component of justice is an economic settlement. To a small extent this justice is being achieved with reservation gambling. But this benefit seems to be narrowly distributed.
    It seems that as sovereign nations, Native American reservations could be granted the right to engage in more enterprise tax free. Not just cigarettes and gambling. For example, the sale of luxury goods or other highly taxed items via web based businesses. Then I guess the challenge is to insure equitable distribution of the profits since it makes no sense for every nation to engage in the same kinds of activities…and in fact many would probably prefer not to be engaged at all.
    Then maybe we can begin to say (together)…this is what happened and this is what we are doing about it.

  20. I agree with the idea that we have to hate our enemies to win a war. I also think we should support our troops, no matter what we send them into.

    On that note, it’s hard for me to rally behind the current war in Iraq, especially since Al Qadea wasn’t in Iraq at the launch of our war.

    William– a governor apology is a great idea. However, I’ve learned an apology, which is an admission of guilt, isn’t regularly done in our society.

    Anyway, I’m excited about nativeamericanminn150.org. I think it’ll be tough to generate engaging content, rather than content that offends, is boring, or is not rooted in fact. It’s a controversial topic and I hope the site captures viewers and gets them to return…

  21. Griff, did you ask for a Governor apology on that mn sesquicenntenial blog? Wow.

    I like the idea of blogging the truth, but I don’t want to see the site run into political problems which hinder discussion.

    I don’t really know what to say, here…

  22. GrIff: Great blog post at the MN Sesqui web site. You do a good job of being a journalist and reporting the facts.

    Holly, I think we have a problem with community guilt-we are so proud of our individual accomplishments we don’t want to own any mistakes made by others.

    I don’t really have a problem admitting guilt since I was raised Catholic (so I am guilty all the time.) I really think that asking for forgiveness heals–and that even those that don’t feel any shame for past actions might gain from a public acknowledgment of the past transgressions.

    Yes, the native americans were brutal when they finally attempted to defend their lands–but their actions do not somehow excuse the continuous assault by the people of the United States to exterminate the native americans.

    During World War II, Germany visited attrocities on its citizens and those of other countries. Many times people were put in a position of doing something horrible to one group (i.e., Jews) in order to prevent something horrible from happening to themselves or someone they loved. Regardless of their choices during the war, after the war the government worked towards atonement. They built their new country on the rejection of bigotry. Meanwhile, many people had to come to terms with their own guilt. We can never know if someone repents–that is between them and their God. We can only, like Germany, make it easier to acknowledge the communal transgressions and try to make it easier for everyone to move on.

    What have we done to attempt repairs for the atrocities of our government and its people on the native americans?

    I think that there should be required curriculum in high school to study the painful past of the United States–including treatment of native americans and the Jim Crow south. It would go a long way toward understanding hard feelings passed down through generations, and might enlighten a few “kids of bigots.”

  23. After I said “I wish I could have been there to say slavery wasn’t okay. I’m sorry about my ancestors enslaving your ancestors,” my friend at Olaf said: “There’s nothing worse than a guilty white person.”

    Do you think most/many Indians want an apology, a change of action, more respect, or what? The atrocity happened long ago. The separation still remains. It would be nice to start by educating…

    Now that Jane mentions she’s a Catholic, I can throw in there that I am a Lutheran. Saved by Grace. Less guilt.

    On that note: Maybe it’d be better for Pawlenty to ask for forgiveness, instead of apologizing?

  24. Holly- You raise a very good question about what the Native Americans might want from us during this celebration. Has anyone asked them? Or are we wanting to do our own little catharsis to soothe our consciences? Just wondering.

    I did a little poking around in the involvement of the Native Americans in the First & Second World Wars. I found a masters thesis by Diane Camurat to be very interesting reading. It seems that somewhere between 11,000 and 17,000 Native Americans served in the first war. There are not, according to the paper, really reliable records from that era. There were about 25,000 that served in the second war. One of the most valuable contributions from these people was their ability to comunicate messages in their own tongue that could not be translated, unless a person happened to know the language. Because of their success in WW I, Hitler even sent some German anthropologists to the US before WW II to study the Indian languages. It was too great a task, so the native tongues were again successfully used in WW II to send secret messages.

    All this seems very interesting, seeing that WW I occured about 30 years after the last of the Indian Wars. There didn’t seem to be any animosity with the Native Americans fighting alongside the white men. Perhaps they had an aversion to being forced to learn German. Or, most likely, they saw the nobility in uniting to defend our common land, in spite of how they had been treated. And, the unfortunate thing is that our shabby treatment of them was not changed by their demonstration of loyalty. Greed and idealism always seem to trump common decency. We even did it to the returning Viet Nam vets, no matter what color their skin was. That is a tradgety of our history, and indicative that we, as a society, haven’t really gotten that much better.

    I guess we can celebrate this Sesquicentenial with either remorse over our failures or thankfulness for what we have attained. I choose to be thankful, especially for all those who passed before me and gave their lives to allow me the freedom to live in this great state and country.

  25. Jane, some Germans were forced to do horrible things, but there’s ample proof that many, many churgoing Germans were just fine with the camps and the death and helped or at least accepted it.
    The Jim Crow mentality wasn’t just in the south. There was a lynching in Duluth, there were white only neighborhoods when I was growing up outside Chicago — and just yesterday I talked to a nice Minnesota city official about the new harness track in Columbus and she said, “We’ve given enough money to the Indians (casinos), so it’s good to keep that money here.”
    It’s easy to apologize for what our ancestors did. It’s much harder to deal with what is still happening today. For example, the Democratic Party officials are allowing Hillary Clinton to argue that they should ignore the majority vote and make her the candidate because whites won’t vote for Obama. Why aren’t Democrats screaming that those comments are offensive? Why didn’t they denounce her and go to West Virginia and tell voters that the party needs to accept the majority vote and unite to do the right thing. (And this isn’t about whether I’m for the positions of either candidate, just about the racism discussion).
    I find the very idea that people can discuss the option of denying the winner the nomination because the country is racist proof that sometimes we haven’t come that far at all.

  26. I think most Native Americans would welcome a sincere and formal apology from both Federal and individual state governments, similar to Australia’s apology to Aborigines in Feb.

    US Senator Sam Brownback (R Kansas) has introduced a NATIVE AMERICAN APOLOGY RESOLUTION bill in the Senate, described as: “A joint resolution to acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the United States Government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States. ”

    There’s a companion bill in the House, too, but both have been languishing since last summer. I’m not sure why.

    Many would also want some type of compensation and/or specific actions to be taken, like the group of Dakota people who were the organizers of the protests last weekend. Their web site: Take Down The Fort.

  27. John, you might like the movie Windtalkers.

    Also, I notice you said “them” and “those people” a lot in your post #31. Ususally I agree with what you write, but this time I am surprised by your usage of “us and them” mentality.

    Griff, the Take down the Fort site is powerful. Apparently, this group is religiously motivated, among other things.

    By the way, when May is over, how will someone find your Mn Sesqui blog?

  28. Holly- You bring up a really good point in the “us” and “them” labels. When I was writing my post, I was having a real struggle with the terminology. I didn’t feel I could use “we” because, to my knowledge, I have no Native American ancestry. This is an unfortunate thing when we try to even discuss racial issues, especially when trying to convey accomplishments. How can we even discuss these issues without sounding racist? But there is a differentiation between races. I don’t think we can escape that fact. In the past, the “us” and “them” has often been used to denigrate a people group. I certainly do not have that in my heart. Perhaps the whole context of the communcation needs to be considered. I’m really open to any wisdom you have. With the whole push for political correctness, I feel stifled in my desire to express myself. Thanks for the sensitivity. And, thanks for the movie suggestion. I watch maybe 2 or 3 movies a year, so I will put this one on my list.

  29. Ah, now I see where you’re coming from, John. I don’t have any wisdom on that. I also wonder how to differentiate and also be inclusive. Maybe instead of saying “the greatest thing they gave us” we could say “I really like that the Navajo language was used in WWII”…

    I hope you have a chance to see the movie.

    Do you have two sons? There were Georges running around our house for a few years– I’m Holly Cybyske Cairns 🙂 Maybe you aren’t the same George family. Nice kids in that family.

  30. I’m heading to Winona today for tomorrow’s last installment of the Capitals for a Day program, which will have quite a bit of Native American stuff on the agenda. I’ll be blogging it, of course, and hopefully will have some interviews, too.

  31. Holly- I’m not the same George. I have only one son. He and my youngest daughter were the only ones who attended high school in Northfield. My three older daughters all graduated from Owatonna Christian School. I must confess that I am a little prejudiced, but I tjhink my kids were pretty good, also. Something about that George surname.

    When we moved here 12 years ago, we looked at the house the other George family was selling at the time. Of seven members in each family, there were five common first names. We decided the post office would never figure that one out, so we purchased a different house.

    Back to the Native American theme, your wording is excellent. I always appreciate someone who can express their thoughts well in writing. Actually, there were four main languages used in the wars, Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw and Comanche. Then, there were the different dialects within each language. What a simple, magnificent way to communicate secrets over the not so secret airways. I think it is an excellent example of how cooperation between people groups can accomplish a common goal. I hope we have not lost sight of that in our current times.

  32. Hi, that’s a great story about two George families!

    Oh, I didn’t know that many languages were used in WWII. Hmm. No wonder the secrets were safe!

  33. This week’s “This American Life” program’s topic was “Little War on the Prairie”. The journalist who did this program grew up in Mankato and found it curious that the war and the mass hangings were never mentioned or taught in the schools. He gives a history of the war and the aftermath and looks at why talking about the war was taboo, and how this subject is being taught now, as opposed to when he was in school. It’s excellent. Here’s the link to the audio:
    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/479/little-war-on-the-prairie#play

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