US-Dakota War discussion continues

To the editor:

In response to Mr. LaBatte’s letter: I appreciate that you provided some of the facts clarifying a few of the figures I was referring to, along with some additional information. In order to further this discussion, I would like to clarify some of what I meant in my original letter. Before this, it is important to make a brief note on current research regarding historical facts.

When relying on historical records, it is vital to understand the socio-historical context in which they were created. Even in Western historical records there is an element of subjectivity that is innately related to societal power dynamics. Given this factor, it is clear that there are key perspectives from Dakota people about what happened in Minnesota’s history that are not validated by modern historians. Therefore, it is indeed the case that we must present an accurate, balanced and respectful truth about what happened in the past.

Now, it is true that Dr. Charles Eastman did have a voice through his writings in the early 1900’s. However, this does not mean that all Dakota people have had a voice. Although there may have not been any obvious “impediments to Dakota people expressing themselves orally or in writing,” there certainly were social impediments. The history of race relations regarding American Indians in the United States must be considered in this type of discussion.

You are correct that nothing diminishes the fact that 650 settlers were killed. This is tragic by all means, and as I said, I do not mean to diminish the suffering that settlers faced. Hence, I agree with you on the point that despite the fact that many Dakota people were friendly, it does not change that some Dakota people did kill settlers. Further, it is vital to be very careful of how the word “genocide” is used. Again, the larger historical context must be taken into consideration when discussing these types of issues. An attempt to pin genocide on the Dakota people based on the killing of settlers in the month long war of 1862 is inappropriate.

Additionally, there are arguments that despite the fact that 38 Dakota were implicated in 99 civilian murders, some of these were likely wrongful accusations. The remaining Dakota of the 303 that were originally sentenced were imprisoned in Davenport, Iowa, regardless of their acquittal. One thousand-seven hundred Dakota people were forcibly placed in a concentration camp at Fort Snelling in the winter of 1862. How this is not to be considered a prison camp is beyond me. After that winter, the 1,310 surviving Dakota were forcibly sent to Crow Creek on the Missouri River. There were many Dakota that died from exposure and hunger during this time. Although not all Dakota were exiled from the state, the point is that many innocent Dakota people were. Essentially, Dakota people were punished regardless of their actions during the war by virtue of being Dakota.

The claim of Dakota people arriving in south-western Minnesota in about 1700 as a fact is contestable. Before coming to a conclusion on this, it is vital that the perspective of Dakota people and their oral histories be considered along with the perspectives of Western historians. We must be very careful of privileging certain stories while marginalizing others, which I assume we can agree upon.

Lastly, your statement that the Dakota “did not write treaties” is obvious. I never implied that they did. However, I suggested that the treaties giving the United States this particular land were negotiated hastily and many of the Dakota people signing them were not honestly dealt with. I also realize that the settlers were not land thieves and that they did not take part in the treaty negotiations. This was a complex situation and I agree that the treaty system is much too complicated to attempt to discuss in an editorial. In fact, it seems that much of this is too complex to adequately address in this space.

Most importantly, I would like to thank you for your response. I agree that the truth about all sides of this war need to be heard and listened to. Hopefully we can do this with our hearts and not just our heads. In this regard, we can see that by the virtue of human nature this is a many sided story. Even more, we are not examining this story from the distant future. Rather, we are active participants right in the middle of it. The intention in my original response was to address the notion of “two sides” and offer an expanded perspective. Undoubtedly, it takes all of us to engage in this story for healing to take place.

Jason Mack

New Ulm

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