June 06, 2008

Natives protest Minn. sesquicentennial

Minnesota genocide wounds fester

150th birthday celebration prompts protests, education effortsProtests involving nooses have sprung up at the state Capitol, angry letter-writing campaigns have ensued, and some Natives have been arrested as a result of their educational efforts.

"What does it mean when Minnesotans continue to celebrate what they gained as a consequence of genocide, ethnic cleansing, policies of extermination, policies of forced removal, mass hangings and bounties?" asked Waziyatawin, a Dakota woman from the Upper Sioux reservation. "It's a question that most Minnesotans really have not wanted to ask."
What exactly they're protesting:Minnesota, which contains 11 tribal nations, is the historic home of the hangings at Mankato of 38 Indians for their part in the Dakota War of 1862. The event, according to Minnesota historians, remains the largest mass execution in U.S. history. In 1863, many Dakotas were forcibly removed from the state, and a massive incarceration of Dakota men ultimately prevented some of the Indian population from reproducing.

Waziyatawin and others believe that many Americans today don't realize that Indians are still paying the costs of these devastating actions. Most Dakota Indians don't live on the historical homelands and have lost some of their traditional culture and even language. Ojibwes in the state have fared somewhat better, but have still experienced many of the negative effects of colonization.
How the state has responded:Members of the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission recently acknowledged ethnocide and genocide against American Indians living in Minnesota during the state's early history. The commission, appointed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, has overseen the celebrations recognizing Minnesota's 150th anniversary of statehood.

"Minnesotans pride themselves today on living in a state that is forward-thinking and compassionate," according to a statement on the commission's Web site. "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.
And:Wigley said some state legislators are currently exploring the possibility of sponsoring bills that would formally apologize for the sins of the past. Some in the state have also eyed with enthusiasm the April passage of a Colorado Legislature resolution comparing the deaths of millions of American Indians after colonization to the Holocaust.Comment:  Hmm. Unlike Oklahoma, Minnesota doesn't seem to be whitewashing its Native history. It doesn't seem to be planning any phony events like a marriage between Mr. Oklahoma and Miss Indian Territory. Therefore, it's not clear what the protesters want beyond what the state has already done or is thinking of doing.

Also, it seems a bit odd to blame Minnesota's 1858 statehood for the 1862 executions or the 1863 removal. Would these things not have happened if Minnesota hadn't been a state? Will the protesters forgo a 150th anniversary protest in 2012 because they've already protested in 2008? Inquiring minds want to know.

The photo below kind of reflects my puzzlement. Nobody demanded or carried out executions as the price for Minnesota's becoming a state. Statehood happened first and the executions occurred later.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Or as Rodney King is quoted as having said, "Can't we all just l;ive together?" In even simpler words, your past and our past have passed, and never the twain shall meet...
All Best
Russ Bates

dmarks said...

There is some effort for the "twain" to meet at the Dakota Homecoming:


It includes a "Dakota History and Culture Truth and Reconciliation Circle". It has been going on for a few years now, and it would be interesting to see Rob's take on this at Newspaper Rock.

It's going on this weekend, in fact.