Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Mending generations of bad feelings” in Redwood County during “The Year of the Dakota” February 28, 2013

WILL THE DIVIDING LINES ever connect into a complete circle of healing?

A century and a half after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 ended, can the Dakota and descendants of white settlers, and others, ever fully reconcile and forgive?

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on Dec. 26, 1862.

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on Dec. 26, 1862.

The issues that divide—of blame and of animosity, of death and of punishment, of land and of banishment, and more—remain, sometimes subtle and below the surface, sometimes exposed.

As a native of Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota and as a descendant of settlers who fled their New Ulm area homestead during the U.S.-Dakota War, I have always been especially interested in this conflict.

So when I learned that the City of Redwood Falls on January 15 joined the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul in adopting resolutions “recognizing the 150th anniversary of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862 and declaring 2012-2013 the Year of the Dakota,” I took note.

The resolution states, in part in paragraph two:

WHEREAS, much has yet to be learned about issues revolving around land, reparations and restitution, treaties, genocide, suppression of American Indian Spirituality and Ceremonies, suppression on Indigenous languages, bounties, concentration camps, force marches, mass executions and forcible removals; and…

For my home county, at the geographical center of the war and home to the Dakota, then and now, passage of this resolution reflects a desire to understand, to educate, to heal.

Now you wouldn’t think, after 150 years, that such a resolution would even be needed. Trust me. Hard feelings still exist. But because I have not lived in Redwood County for decades and am therefore only an outside observer, I contacted Redwood Falls Mayor and avid local historian Gary Revier with a few questions.

I posed this question, among others, to Revier: All these years after the Dakota War ended, what, if any, tensions still exist between the Dakota and Whites in Redwood County?

As I expected, the mayor, who could have danced around my question with political rhetoric, told it like he sees it:

To answer your question about tensions between the Dakota and White communities, I would have to say emphatically “yes.” I believe it is more of a trust issue for the Dakota. On the White side, I would have to say there is a lot of envy because of the success of the gaming industry among the various Indian communities.

When I hear from my fellow members of the White community, they almost always begin by saying, “I am not prejudiced, but…” They then go on to explain some good deed they did for a Native American or some distant cousin three times removed who they are related to.

The Milford State Monument along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm commemorates the deaths of 52 settlers who were killed in the area. Located along the eastern edge of the Lower Sioux Reservation, Milford had the highest war death rate of any single township.

The Milford State Monument along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm commemorates the deaths of 52 settlers in Milford Township during the U.S.-Dakota War.

Revier, who also happens to be a descendant of white settlers impacted by the U.S.-Dakota War, endorses the resolution which calls for presenting the Dakota perspective through discussion; efforts by the City of Redwood Falls to promote the well-being and growth of the American Indian Community; and that such efforts “will mark the beginning of future dialogues and efforts to rectify the wrongs that were perpetrated during, and since, the year 1862, a tragic and traumatic event for the Dakota People of Minnesota.”

Says Revier:

I do support the resolution for many reasons, but the one that provides me with the most satisfaction really starts mending generations of bad feelings between the two nations. The first step towards reconciliation is admitting to the aggrieved party that there were atrocities committed. Once again this is more complex than can be explained in one or two sentences.

The mayor is right. Summarizing and defining issues spanning 150 years would be a difficult undertaking, especially in the context of a blog post.

A photo panel at the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Center in St. Peter shows Dakota leaders photographed in Washington D.C. in 1858. The photo is from the Minnesota Historical Society.

A photo panel at the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Center in St. Peter shows Dakota leaders photographed in Washington D.C. in 1858. The photo is from the Minnesota Historical Society.

Now, though, through adoption of the “Year of the Dakota” resolution, the City of Redwood Falls, in discussion with the Dakota community and others, is aiming to “open additional dialogue and create better communication and feelings among the citizens of both communities,” Revier says.

While methods of accomplishing this have not yet been fully defined, the Redwood Falls community has already hosted roundtable discussions, author visits, video showings, presentations and historic site tours related to the U.S.-Dakota War during the war’s sesquicentennial in 2012.

Ramsey Falls in Alexander Ramsey Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Ramsey Falls in Alexander Ramsey Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Additionally, Revier notes that when the city celebrates the dedication anniversary of its 219-acre Alexander Ramsey Park this year, the event will also be “a celebration of the Dakota who consider it a very special place.”  The Dakota once lived on the land (which eventually became the park) and the name Redwood comes from the Dakota word Can-say-api, meaning “where they paint the tree red,” the mayor says. A “101st Celebration and Ramsey Park Jamboree” is set for June 5 at the Redwood Area Community Center, according to the Alexander Ramsey Park Facebook page.

The park is named after first Minnesota Territorial and (second) Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey who negotiated treaties with the Dakota and was accused, but later cleared, of fraud in those negotiations. Revier is interested in possibly renaming the park, he says, “to something that would be more descriptive of the area which is home to so many indigenous people.”

This artwork by Gordon M. Coons, which was on recent temporary display at the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Center, marks the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. According to information posted with the piece, "...the crows, known as messengers, are silent and unable to carry the stories of the 38 Dakota hanged in Mankato. Each crow carries the name of a Dakota hanged in Mankato. The texture on the crows is a blend of acrylic paint and soil from the historical sites of the Sioux Uprising of 1862. The soil is from the Traverse des Sioux treaty site of 1851 and eight other locations of the Sioux Uprising of 1862."

This artwork by Gordon M. Coons, which was on recent temporary display at the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter, marks the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. According to information posted with the piece, “…the crows, known as messengers, are silent and unable to carry the stories of the 38 Dakota hanged in Mankato. Each crow carries the name of a Dakota hanged in Mankato. The texture on the crows is a blend of acrylic paint and soil from the …Traverse des Sioux treaty site of 1851 and eight other locations of the Sioux Uprising of 1862.” Coons is an enrolled member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe of northern Wisconsin and now lives in Minneapolis.

WHILE COMMUNICATING with Revier and researching for this post, I noticed that the “Year of the Dakota” resolution passed by the city of Redwood Falls varies from those approved in Minneapolis and St. Paul. One difference comes in the number of Dakota who were executed, a figure referenced in the first paragraph of the resolution. The Twin Cities resolutions note the number of executed Dakota—those hung in a mass hanging in Mankato—at 38. The resolution from Redwood Falls defines the number as 38+2 Dakota.

I asked the mayor to clarify. Revier added the “2” to represent Medicine Bottle and Little Six (Shakopee), Dakota leaders who were hung at Fort Snelling for their roles in the U.S.-Dakota War.

When I consider all the mayor has shared with me and my own knowledge of the tensions that have existed in Redwood County for 150 years, I wonder how reconciliation will ever be achieved. But I have to hold onto hope—hope that this newly-adopted resolution will foster discussion and understanding, hope that each side can stop blaming the other, hope that forgiveness will come…

Gordon M. Coons also created this 1862 U.S. flag which features the names of the 38 Dakota who were executed during a mass hanging in Mankato. "...the 38 Dakota are woven into the history of the U.S. and appear to be woven into the flag," information posted with the display at the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Center states.

Gordon M. Coons also created this 1862 U.S. flag which features the names of the 38 Dakota who were executed during a mass hanging in Mankato. “…the 38 Dakota are woven into the history of the U.S. and appear to be woven into the flag,” information posted with the display at the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter states.

NOTE: I contacted Dr. Chris Mato Nunpa,  retired former associate professor of Indigenous Nations and Dakota Studies who authored the resolution along with other Dakota people and supporters. He declined to comment.

To read the entire resolution adopted by the Minneapolis City Council, click here. The Redwood Falls version varies only in the number of Dakota specified (38+2) and, of course, in the council name stated in the resolution.

The Saint Paul City Council resolution differs from that of the other two cities as the city’s parks and recreation department  is directed to “work with the Dakota Bdote Restoration Consortium to identify, name and interpret sacred Native American sites at and nearby the sacred Bdote…” You can read the entire resolution by clicking here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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18 Responses to ““Mending generations of bad feelings” in Redwood County during “The Year of the Dakota””

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Very interesting! I have a soft spot for the Lakota Sioux after spending a week at Rosebud Reservation and understand a minuscule bit about what life was like for our Native American brothers and sisters. This may be a step in the right direction. When we were in Australia the PM issued an official apology to the indigenous people of the country—–it was interesting to see the reactions. I love the flag you photographed. That is an incredible shot of a really unique thing. Thanks for sharing.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Feelings run deep on all sides so reconciliation and healing are difficult. I, too, was impressed by Gordon M. Coons’ powerful art.

  2. BradG Says:

    Also love that flag. While growing up in Belview in the 50s/60s, I don’t think I ever knew of any families that had any Sioux heritage..at least they never mentioned it. Most must have stayed in the Morton/Redwood Falls area.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I didn’t know any families with Dakota heritage either. We were all so much more limited in our travels then, and by that I mean even going any farther than 20 miles from home for something other than school. It was a big deal for me to go shopping with my parents in Redwood Falls or Marshall once a month, if that often.

      So much has changed since we grew up, even in perspectives on the history we were taught.

  3. Haynes LeRoy Says:

    Good job! We lived in RWF for eight years. Every June the folks on the reservation held a pow-wow. Think the word they used was waschipi or something like that. You could buy a pass for the weekend which I often did and spend as much time there as I could. My memory is that there were few white folks there. It would help if RWF citizens and others spent some time at the Pow Wow. The reservation people, I think, would appreciate that expression of interest. I always felt accepted and one time was invited to join in a procession honoring a friends relative. I felt honored by that invitation but must confess my dancing left something to be desired.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I have not heard of this “Pow Wow.” Has it been in existence for a long time? Yes, I agree that learning about each other’s culture and history can go a long way toward understanding and connecting.

  4. treadlemusic Says:

    Much food for thought presented. Having lived only in the Eastern portion of the state (along the Mississippi) I have not been aware of much of this tension (past or present). MN state history was not covered in any class I ever took at any level. Very sad how we “civilized” humans treat one another.
    The artwork pieces are outstanding!!!!!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      We studied Minnesota history in sixth grade. I don’t recall how much was, or wasn’t taught, about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. But eventually I wrote a research paper on the topic. I hope today’s students are being taught more about our state’s history. Any parents of current students wish to tell us?

      Yes, the artwork is outstanding. Totally agree. Both pieces send a powerful message.

  5. hotlyspiced Says:

    I have to confess to knowing very little about these issues. I really only know what I learned from ‘Dances with Wolves’. We have similar issues here with what occurred with the Aborigines and like you say, there is much to be resolved xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      One of my other commenters referenced the situation in Australia, so I expected you might comment on that, too. There is much to be resolved.

  6. If you go to the website “smoothfeather.org” you can watch the film “Dakota 38.” It was shown recently at the Wietz Center at Carleton College. One of the women involved with that project asked me to write a publicity piece on it for the Northfield News. That article is in yesterday’s Northfield News and on line. Dakota 38 is a film about the mass execution and also about Jim Miller, a native man who had a dream of healing that involved Indians and whites. From his dream a horseback ride was concieved that would go more than 300 miles in December each year from his reservation in South Dakota to the hanging site in Mankato. It is a very powerful film. I recommend it highly.

    Last year during the 150th anniversary of this event, Brent Michael Davids, a Native American Composer composed and played a Symphony with the Mankato Orchestra commemorating the Dakota 38. It was called the Dakota Music Tour and they played in Mankato and also on a few reservations. These are just two examples of healing taking place from the Native community.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you for the information, Marshall. I am familiar with the Dakota 38 film and also with the annual ride. But I had not heard about the Dakota Music. Thanks for sharing all of this info with my readers and for your insights.

  7. Gary Revier, Mayor, City of Redwood Falls, redtired businessperson, author, lecturer, and historian. Says:

    Thank you all for your understanding and suggestions for furthering the knowledge of what really transpired in 1862 and beyond. If anyone comes to the Redwood Falls area I am happy, at no charge, to take you on a tour of the area that was the beginning of the Dakota and Lakota, Sioux, wars with the US government which ended with a tragic massacre at a place in South Dakota called Wounded Knee. I would suggest, if you are interested, in reading the book or seeing the movie “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” The movie was an HBO special and tells the story in a very correct and dramatic way. The central figure in the movie is Hakadah, the pitiful last, also known as Ohiyessa, the winner, and his christian name, assingned by the US government, Charles Eastman. I am a student of Dr. Eastman MD, the first native american medical doctor who was a graduate of Dartmouth University. Hakadah was born in a teepee in what is known by the white community as Ramsey Park and by the Native community as Red Tree Nation, during a 1858 blizzard. His mother died giving birth to this great man and hence the name Hakadah, the pitiful last.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You are a wealth of information, Gary. Thank you for all you shared with me earlier and now here, in this comment. Also, thank you for your efforts to promote understanding and healing. Readers, I’d encourage you, if you are interested, to take the mayor of Redwood Falls up on his offer of a personal tour.

  8. The Minnesota History Museum had an extensive exhibit about this conflict last summer. I don’t know if it is still there.

  9. Reblogged this on The Window and commented:
    This story from my fellow blogger Audrey Kletscher Helbling compliments my posts on the Dakota 38.


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