More on events of 1862

To the editor:

In response to Jason Mack’s letter:

Re: the use of “we.” I had assumed that it was clear from the context of my editorial that I was speaking as one who lost family members during the war, and did not presume to speak for all settlers involved.

You have fallen into your own trap about “us vs. them” in your defense of the Indians. The point of my letter was not to deny the suffering of the Dakota in Minnesota. You don’t have to defend them to me. I agree that the voices of the Dakota had been stifled too long. The point I was trying to make is that the settlers were victims as well and mention of their suffering should always be included in any commemorative events. Remembering the settlers does not diminish the suffering of the Dakota. The two are not mutually exclusive, quite the contrary. We are inextricably linked. You can’t memorialize one with recognizing the other.

I also must take exception to your term “inaccurate notions.” Certainly, there is room for opinion and debate on this subject, but realities, not “notions,” were the basis of my argument. I can back up my statements with documented fact, not sweeping generalizations that detract from the topic.

Of course there are more than two sides to a war. I decided to simplify for ease of illustration, to emphasize that there was more than ONE side.

Taoyateduta was indeed hesitant to lead the Dakota, as he knew it would eventually be a hopeless cause. Sitting in a tipi outside his frame house, he called the members of the soldier’s lodge “fools” and “little children” but he finished by saying “Taoyateduta is no coward. He will die with you.” (from: Through Dakota Eyes, Narrative Accounts of the Minnesota Indian War of 1862, edited by Gary Anderson and Alan Woolworth, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988, pp.12-13) And so, reluctant or not, he led them to war on a largely unarmed populace.

Regarding the Indian “distaste” for American-style farming: Wambditanka, one of the members of the soldier’s lodge, stated: “Little Crow was always blamed for the part he took in the sale [the 1858 sale of the northern bank of the Minnesota River as a consequence of Inkpaduta’s raid]. It caused us all to move to the south side of the river, where there was very little game, and many of our people, under the treaty, were induced to give up the old life and go to work like white men, which was very distasteful to many… the Indians did not know how to do that, and did not want to, anyway” (ibid, p. 23) In reference to the soldier’s lodge, it is important to note that “the lodge was dominated by hunters, and it refused admittance to farmer Indians.”(Ibid, p. 13)

Care was indeed taken in bringing up incendiary terms such as “terrorism” and “genocide.” They were discussion points. Just because the later Indian policies of the government could be described as such, doesn’t mean that the Indians were innocent of such atrocities. Taking war to a largely unarmed populace and engaging in acts of brutality in order to evoke fear is a definition of terrorism.

Your vague “illegal and immoral things” that you attributed to the government shows that the settlers were victims just as much as the Dakota. You missed my emphasis on the fact that it was the government, not the settlers, who instigated the treaties, made the state legal for settlement, delayed payments, invoked clauses to deny treaty rights, and allowed traders and former traders such as Ramsey and Sibley to get away with murder, literally. If anything, consideration should be given to removing the names of such men from the names of our cities, townships and counties.

The way I see it, we differ on one main point of opinion. You believe that the Indians were victims of governmental policies, and that this unfair treatment of the Indians justified the deaths of over 600 settlers. I do not. I believe that in 1862, the settlers were as much victims as the Indians and should be included equitably in any commemoration of the US-Dakota War. We have a right to our opinions, but the facts remain about how the Dakota brought war to the area. You must be careful when you try to justify all that happened to the settlers as proper in light of a retrospective analysis of history.

As I had stated in my original letter, most of this is academic exercise. In 2013, “we,” and I think I can use it inclusively, all live here, for better or for worse. We live in the state of Minnesota, whose name is a reminder of its origins, but we cannot undo the past, ignore or rewrite distasteful parts of history, or obscure facts with hindsight. Again, “we” should accept this terrible dark chapter in our history for what is was and remember ALL those who were victims of this war, every time the story is told.

Matt Boisen


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