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This post originally appeared Sunday, May 13, in the 14th edition of First Nations News & Views, one element in the "Invisible Indians" project created by navajo and me. Here is where you can view All Previous Editions.


For a dozen years, Carter Meland has taught American Indian literature in the University of Minnesota's American Indian Studies program. This term 60 students in his "American Indians in Minnesota" class explored an issue previously examined in First Nations News & Views here and here: the 1862 Dakota War. They came away so appalled that they made a video.

The Dakotas (also known as Santee Sioux or Eastern Dakota) had been promised 1.4 million acres in perpetuity in exchange for giving up 23 million acres. Cut off from their hunting grounds, faced with two bad harvests, encroached on all sides by white settlers and having their treaty-guaranteed food distributions delayed, they sought confirmation of the land deal. They also asked for a loan so they could buy food to hold them over to the next season. The government-appointed Indian agent, Andrew Myrick, said, "If they are hungry, let them eat grass." Five days later, the long-standing tensions exploded and white settlers were attacked. Myrick was soon found dead, his mouth stuff with grass.

President Lincoln's advisors and the president himself thought perhaps this uprising was engineered by the Confederacy, speculation which was found to be false later. Lincoln at one point contemplated sending 10,000 Rebel prisoners of war under Union command to "Attend to the Indians." Congress set a $25 bounty for each scalp of an Indian killed in the state. More than 1600 Dakota were placed in a concentration camp where hundreds starved. When the conflict was over, an estimated 500 whites and more than a 1000 Dakota were dead, although the actual numbers will be forever unknown. Several months after the six-week the conflict ended, 38 Dakota were executed on Lincoln's orders in the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

That, however, was not the end of the maltreatment the state dealt to the Dakota and Ojibwe. A good portion of this was delivered in the cultural genocide that was the mission of the residential boarding schools which many Indian children were forced into after being grabbed from their parents.

When the UofM students were done with their exploration of this history, they decided that a government apology to the Dakota and Ojibwe people was in order. To make their case, they put together a five-part, one-hour video, An Overdue Apology,offering a brief history of those people and their interactions with non-Indians and the U.S. and state governments.  

As you can see, it is an amateur film, created by non-historians, and it suffers from the speed with which it had to be produced. As the Minnesota Post's Paul Udstrand writes, "it’s not as polished as a Robert Redford documentary." But it covers the ground and provides the kind of information that ought to be taught about local tribes in every middle school, high school and college across the nation.

As Udstrand says:

The demand for an apology is quite provocative, but it shouldn’t be. In many ways it’s simply a request that history be recognized and accounted for. Nevertheless many people seem to take reflexive offense at the proposal, as if it’s a personal attack of some kind. This is a request for an apology from the US government and Government of MN, not a request for a personal apology from people who obviously did not participate in historical crimes or injustices. A president or governor may be the voice of that apology, but no one is claiming that they are personally responsible. This is not a bizarre concept, Government[s] are durable entities that are accountable for the duration of their existence.  [...]

Before you declare an apology to be “meaningless” you need give those requesting the apology a chance to explain what it means to them. And since any consequences of an apology are created by the apology, one cannot declare an apology that has not been rendered to be inconsequential. Obviously an apology could be a meaningless gesture, but it could also be a bridge to a better understanding of history and more respectful relationships among people. You may be able to argue that an apology is useless as long as it’s theoretical, but once an actual apology is issued, it may well create a powerful significance.

Part 2: The Dakota War's atrocities, Dakota and Ojibwe traditions and daily life.

Part 3: Land allotment, blood quantum issues, the boarding schools and renaming of Indian children with Christian names.

Part 4: Economic revitalization, Indian gaming, interviews with UofM students on their knowledge of the tribes.

Part 5: Gaining justice, the rationale behind an apology, nine UofM students from Meland's class express support for Minnesota Indians by giving their own apologies for the injustices that have occurred in the state:

“The fight for indigenous rights fits into a larger struggle for social justice. Social justice is the upholding of the natural law that all persons irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, possessions, race, religion, etc. are to be treated with equity and without prejudice. The path to justice for American Indians in Minnesota starts with recognizing the implications that these historical events have on relations between Native and non-Native communities. Things like the Dakota War and the dispossession of White Earth are part of a colonialist system that damages Native sovereignty and identity.”
An apology isn't the end-all, be-all of reconciliation. But it's always a good start.
NAN Line Separater

Originally posted to Native American Netroots on Tue May 15, 2012 at 08:02 PM PDT.

Also republished by Progressive Hippie.

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Comment Preferences

  •  See the film Dakota 38 (18+ / 0-)

    Dakota 38 is a new documentary film that tells the story of the 1862 mass execution in a powerful way.  I saw it when it premiered earlier this year -- in Minnesota -- and it was unforgettable.

    The upcoming 150th anniversary of the event will be marked by a special healing event in Mankato MN.  

    •  I missed it at the film festival. Hope to catch it (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      sometime. My friend heard from Native Americans that it is an accurate portrayal of the bloody incident.

      "The word bipartisan means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out”. - George Carlin

      by Funkygal on Wed May 16, 2012 at 12:20:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  are there any states that don't owe an apology? (15+ / 0-)

    But I'm glad the students have done this the Tribes have tried for a long time to get the truth out.

    Congress set a $25 bounty for each scalp of an Indian killed in the state. More than 1600 Dakota were placed in a concentration camp where hundreds starved.
    Several months after the six-week the conflict ended, 38 Dakota were executed on Lincoln's orders in the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

    America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

    by cacamp on Tue May 15, 2012 at 08:17:06 PM PDT

  •  I am appalled that Native American peoples are (7+ / 0-)

    still treated as team mascots, and the first words out of peoples mouths about Indians is negative. It's long overdue for some semblance of justice for Native Americans, who continue to suffer like most people could never imagine.

    "But Brandine, you're supposed to be in Iraq stopping 911!"

    by leftyguitarist on Tue May 15, 2012 at 08:53:18 PM PDT

  •  there is a draft apology on Governor Dayton's (4+ / 0-)

    desk supported by Venezuela. This is something the UN might possibly assist. Franken is also aware. The removal has yet to be well researched. The THPO at Sisseton is in the forefront.

  •  Man, I learn something every day... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Some of this is due to the power structure, most of it to poor communications and the inability for people to face their shame... Enough with the disinformation. These things should be in the history stories from PreK on up.

    In general I think communications are better than ever- but, for instance, the Occupy Movement would have many more people paying attention if the corruption in our corporate culture were communicated- reported on, accurately.

    This is obviously a college video project, and I hope it's a catalyst to continuing the inquiry and the understanding.

    The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution. Paul Cezanne

    by MeToo on Tue May 15, 2012 at 09:26:47 PM PDT

  •  Lets all just keep @*%&ing until we're the same (0+ / 0-)


  •  This is insane! (0+ / 0-)

    WHO can apologize for something that happened in 1862.  No one who was responsible is alive.  My ancestors didn't show up in Minnesota until the 1920s—so obviously THEY bore no responsibility for the hanging of the 38.

    But what is even MORE pernicious is the obvious fact that the same scumbags who ripped off the Indians also did a damn fine job of stealing the immigrants blind.  We could be looking for what unites the various victim groups but since that would lead to actual power, we instead get fifth-rate professors telling children that one group was more victimized than another.  So instead of a unified action plan, we get to argue over the wording of apologies from one group that has no standing to apologize to another group that has no standing to forgive.

    •  Who??? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, Agathena, navajo

      anyone who has benefited from the social, political and economic consequences of this event could reasonably apologize, and/or acknowledge the heads up that this abominable policy (not just an action, but an action that was part of a long standing policy) could apologize and acknowledge.

      That means, many ( if not most) of us alive are still finding ourselves someplace in part because of the wrongs that were propagated against the people who were here before.

      If we are willing to accept the benefits that derive from the actions of our ancestors (things like progress, wealth, ideals, spoils of war, etc) then we should also be as honest and accept part of the shame of their actions as well.

      in short, positions like the one you've expressed in your comment are nothing more than cop-outs.    

      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

      by a gilas girl on Wed May 16, 2012 at 12:24:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Cop outs??? (0+ / 0-)

        Your "logic" suggests that the wealth of this nation came from stealing land.  This ignores one obvious fact—building the wealth of this nation was NOT an act of theft—it was an act of HARD WORK.

        But hey, let's ignore the hard work of nation building and let's concentrate on who "owned" the dirt.  You have obviously bought into the multi-cultural revisionism that claims hard work is irrelevant but poking each other in the eyes over race is critically important.  You are wrong—and everyone who believes as you do just makes it easier to destroy what little remains of the "progressive left."

        Ah yes--divide and conquer.

        •  What was left out of the Declaration of (5+ / 0-)

          Independence : "Our King has told us to stop taking the Native's lands, this infringes on our plans. We want our freedom to make big bucks at someone else's expense!"

          Many of the founding fathers, including Patrick Henry and George Washington, were involved in outright lies. They told their unknowing Indian agents to tell the tribes that they could keep their lands if the tribes would fight on the colonist's side in the first civil war. At the same time they sent out surveyors to start dividing up the land for rebel use. They had no plans to keep their promises.

          Personally I see a direct line between this ruse and the "No government regulations" movement of today. The "freedom" they want is the freedom to exploit.    

          We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.

          by PowWowPollock on Wed May 16, 2012 at 04:01:13 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Governments make historic apologies (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          In 1988 Canada apologized to First Nations for the Residential School System. We need to apologize too for the atrocities of the 19th - 20th century.

          The "wealth of the nation" of North America was built on invasion and genocide. That's a fact.


          ❧To thine ownself be true

          by Agathena on Wed May 16, 2012 at 04:17:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I disagree (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          navajo, Meteor Blades

          with making a dichotomy between hard work and theft -- the USA did both.  It would be absurd to claim that the Black Hills or the Cherokee lands (just for two examples) were honestly obtained by the current holders.

          'Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that Government is best which is most indifferent.' -- F. D. Roosevelt

          by LandruBek on Wed May 16, 2012 at 11:59:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  To suggest that no wealth came with ... (2+ / 0-)

          ..the theft of the land and the mineral and energy and water resources on and beneath that land, nor from the destruction of the natural resources (bison) living on that land, nor from the slave economy of the South (which fed the textile mills of the North) is a profoundly unrealistic view of what actually occurred.

          And your complaint about who is apologizing to whom and why utterly misses what they students themselves said about the situation.

          It's just like saying that the enclosures in Great Britain, which drove people off the land so it could be "developed" by the capitalist class had no part in producing wealth even those they fed the nation until they were driven out, not a few of them to come to America where they were given land under the Homestead Act that had been pried away by the U.S. Army.  

          You sound just like many of the Manifest Destiny backers of 170 years ago. The Indians were in the way of progress. Saying so does not make one "progressive."

          Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

          by Meteor Blades on Wed May 16, 2012 at 01:28:31 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  FTR, I like a lot of what I've read on... (0+ / 0-)

          ...your web site about economic issues. I just think you got this one way wrong.

          Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

          by Meteor Blades on Wed May 16, 2012 at 01:59:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  the hard work of nation building (0+ / 0-)

          came from not only stealing land but also form stealing labor (as my comment also notes). The theft is and was multidimensional.

          There was hard work, much of it labor from groups of people that the laws of the time didn't recognize as either people, or citizen-worthy.  To accept that as true does not negate the fact that there was also hard work from people whose rights and labor was also recognized and rewarded by the system.

          So, hard work, yes.  But that truth doesn't negate the truth that I also pointed out.  One that very often goes unrecognized.

          Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

          by a gilas girl on Wed May 16, 2012 at 05:12:27 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  yet another example of why (5+ / 0-)

    truth & reconciliation could only ever be a pipe dream in this nation...

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Wed May 16, 2012 at 12:16:54 AM PDT

  •  There are local native Americans trying to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    put governors  Alexander Ramsey  and Henry Sibley on trial (here in MN). Chris Mato Nupa is one of them. He says  "Indians" is an inaccurate term - it is that genocider Columbus' term.  And all of MN counties are named after racists who have to do with colonisation of native American land.

    "The word bipartisan means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out”. - George Carlin

    by Funkygal on Wed May 16, 2012 at 12:31:17 AM PDT

  •  I was excited to see this diary (0+ / 0-)

    although I have to wait two more days to watch the videos -- stupid ATT and their greedy data charges.  

    I've been reading a lot about the Dakota uprising because my wife's grandmother's grandfather, a Norwegian farmer who had begun settling a claim in Minnesota four years earlier, was killed about a week before what's considered the end of the uprising in late September - when the Dakota were captured or rounded up.

    This quote from an English translation of two Norwegian history books written in 1908 and 1930 (my edition makes it impossible to distinguish the 1908 part from the 1930 part) does a good job, I think, in summing up the problem of thinking about the uprising:

    An impartial historical judgement will admit that the Indians had good legal reason for taking up arms, but the unfortunate feature of the sad situation was that their revenge did not strike the guilty ones.  Instead of hurting the thieving traders, the crooked agents and the bungling bureaucrats, their revenge was taken out on the innocent pioneers who had settled on Indian lands.  It was the honest, hard-working and peaceful settlers who had to suffer for the sins of the others.
    from History of the Norwegian Settlements: A translated and expanded version of the 1908 De Norske Settlementers Historie and the 1930 Den Siste Folkevandring Sagastubber fra Nybyggerlivet i Amerika

    Single Payer Single Payer Single Payer Single Payer Single Payer Single Payer Single Payer

    by CalbraithRodgers on Wed May 16, 2012 at 11:32:46 AM PDT

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