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.
I’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:
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.
It’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.”
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.