Healing the Dakota People’s Painful Wounds Of Ethnocide and Genocide

By Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer

 
Chief Leonard Wabasha’s interpretive sign at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park

In 2008, when it was time for Minnesota to celebrate its sesquicentennial, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty appointed a Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission (MSC). The staff of the MSC had a page on their web site titled May is American Indian Month in Minnesota. The statement there was intended to “…bear witness to the tragic side of Minnesota Statehood in 1858 and acknowledge the pain, loss and suffering of the Native American culture in Minnesota.” The statement continued with the healing words:

“Minnesotans pride themselves today on living in a state that is forward-thinking and compassionate. 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.”

“Yet we remain either unaware of or unable to look at our own history and acknowledge the painful wounds of ethnocide and genocide right here in Minnesota. We have a very hard time acknowledging that the pain remains and that it has affected much of our history thru to the present day.” (ref.)

I am an indigenous peoples’ rights activist and I agree with the above MSC statement. I am advocating that the governor of Minnesota establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to continue and advance the reconciliation work that the MSC began.

Recently Indigenous Peoples Literature, a very poplar indigenous peoples’ issues web site posted an article of mine about three initiatives I recommended, (1.) the future bill to change Minnesota’s derogatory geographic place names (an initiative of mine with Representative Dean Urdahl), (2.) a Minnesota Reconciliation Resolution that I asked Urdahl to write and introduce, and (3.) an open (on-line) letter to Governor Tim Pawlenty, seeking a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help identify past and present-day injustices committed against current Minnesota indigenous peoples and Dakota Natives who were exiled from Minnesota. Followed by restitution to rectify those injustices, to help heal the indigenous peoples’ painful wounds. (ref.)

In 2009, I met with Urdahl to discuss my proposed bill to change Minnesota’s 13 derogatory names of geographic places . He said he would draft a bill to change at least some of the derogatory names. He drafted the bill, and Rep. Anzelc asked Urdahl if he would let him introduce the bill. Urdahl informed me that Anzelc would introduce the bill during the next legislative session.

Hereditary Mdewakanton Dakota Chief Leonard Wabasha and I have made some progress on the goal to change the faulty-English-translation name of the “Rum” River, a name that is profane, derogatory and disrespectful, back to either its sacred Dakota name (Wakan), or the correct English translation (Spirit). There is a groundswell of support for the effort to change the Rum River name within the counties of the Wakan/Spirit River corridor. Evidence of this can be seen by looking at the increasing number of sites and groups named Spirit or Wakan River, such as eight businesses, a city street, a three mile long nature area, a Christian community, a community health clinic, a substance abuse treatment center, a youth club, etc. (ref.)

Also, in 2009 during a meeting with Rep. Urdahl, two Mdewakanton Dakota tribal leaders, Leonard Wabasha and Scott Larsen, and two indigenous peoples’ rights activists, John Borman and myself, I was asked to write a draft Minnesota Reconciliation Resolution. During the meeting I stated that the Doctrine of Discovery should be included in the resolution and Leonard Wabasha agreed.

I then contacted Steven Newcomb, an internationally renowned Indigenous activist who is on the forefront of the movement to influence Pope Benedict IV to publicly repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, and asked for his support and assistance with the draft resolution, which he gave. Newcomb is a columnist for Indian Country Today (ICT) newspaper, the world’s leading “Indian” news source. I submitted a letter that was published in ICT about my correspondence with Newcomb and the draft resolution. (ref.)

Urdahl recently introduced the resolution to the Minnesota House of Representatives. Most of the material in the resolution is from my draft resolution, including material about the Doctrine of Discovery. About this work, Wabasha wrote: “Well done, Tom”. (ref.)

The “Doctrine of Discovery” was an international legal construct that was based on a series of Papal Bulls of the 15th century. It gave Christian explorers the right to claim non-Christian lands they “discovered” and lay superior or paramount title to those lands for their Christian Monarchs. Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered”, claimed, exploited and their indigenous inhabitants subjugated. In 1823, the doctrine was incorporated into U.S. Federal Indian law and still remains the basis of Federal Indian Law today.

The doctrine was a radical injustice against indigenous peoples, and because it was incorporated into Federal Indian law – the doctrine’s legal principle that subjugates indigenous peoples continues to be an injustice that needs be rectified to set indigenous peoples free from the white supremacist ideology that is responsible for their current humiliating state of subjugation. They were free and independent sovereign nations, now they are subjugated “domestic dependent nations”, whose relationship to the U.S. resembles that of a ward to his guardian.

The United States National Episcopal Church recently repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. The Episcopal Church’s resolution renounces the doctrine “as fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and our understanding of the inherent rights that individuals and peoples have received from God.”

Steven Newcomb and myself and others are part of a movement to reveal to the general public as well as to governmental, media and religious leaders how evil this doctrine really was and how (in 1823) it was incorporated into U.S. Federal Indian Law. We are working to repeal this law and establish a new paradigm based on the belief that the indigenous peoples of the New World owned the land they discovered and lived on, and did so, because they had an inherent God given right to own those lands. Further, we advocate that their right to own land (or possess territorial integrity) was not based on whether they were of a particular race or creed, or whether they were civilized or uncivilized, but by reason of their humanity. Therefore, we believe that indigenous peoples have an inherent God given right to reclaim and regain their sacred traditional homelands.

Paul Gorski, an internationally renowned multicultural educator and social justice activist who I correspond with, posted an article of mine, titled Independent Indigenous Sovereign Nations (IISN) on his MultiCultural Pavilion digest forum. And Amy Kasi, the Program Manager for the National Multicultural Institute (NMCI) displayed a quote from the article and a link to it on NMCI’s monthly newsletter, as its October SPOTLIGHT article. The quote reads:

…”However, the indigenous peoples living in this land are still being denied three of their–endowed by the Creator–inalienable equality rights, or fundamental human rights. The right to absolute root ownership of their scared traditional/ancestral homelands, the right to be recognized and treated as full independent sovereign nations and the–freedom of religion–right to fully re-establish their traditional religions within their sacred ancestral homelands,…

In respect to this IISN article, Kasi wrote: “I think it would be a valuable resource for anyone interested in not only indigenous peoples but also the history of the US and human rights violations in the US.”

Minnesota’s indigenous people are suffering from past and current human rights violations. Minnesota was once the homeland of all seven groups of the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) – the Mdewakanton, Wahpetowan, Wahpekute, Sissetowan, Ihantowan, Ihanktowanai, and Tetonwan. The Oceti Sakowin are also called the “Great Sioux Nation” (the name Sioux is a misnomer) or Great Dakota Nation. In addition, the Oceti Sakowin are also known as the Dakota Oyate (People), or Dakota. Allthough, quite often the term Dakota applies to just four of the Oceti Sakowin groups – the Mdewakanton, Wahpetowan, Wahpekute and Sissetowan.

The Mdewakanton are the original group of the Oceti Sakowin. They are the grandfathers of all the other Oceti Sakowin groups. They all come from Minnesota, and they all come from the Mdewakanton (Dwellers of Spirit Lake), who lived in villages located near or on the shore of Mille Lacs Lake (Mde Wakan – Spirit Lake) in central Minnesota and who considered Mille Lacs Lake, where there is one Oceti Sakowin creation story, as “the center of their world”. The Mdewakanton were forced from their Mde Wakan (Spirit Lake) homeland around 1745 and they are NOW beginning to return to reclaim it. I believe that it will not be long before many of the Oceti Sakowin will be living near or on the shore of Mille Lacs Lake, and considering Mde Wakan (Spirit Lake) as the center of their world, as their ancestors once did.

It was at Mille Lacs Lake near the mouth of the lake’s outlet river that the Dakota genocide began. For centuries the Dakota Nation lived in a handful of villages along and near the mouth of Wakpa Wakan (Spirit River), the waterway that runs from Lake Mille Lacs (Mde Wakan, Spirit Lake) to the Mississippi River. The Anishinabe/Ojibwe tribes’ homelands were located on the East Coast or east of the Dakota tribe’s Minnesota homeland. Then, the Anishinabe tribes were pushed west by the invading Europeans into the Mdewakanton Dakota Oyate’s Mille Lacs Lake area homeland (the other Dakota Nation sub-tribes had previously left the Mille Lacs Lake area). This caused conflicts to occur between the Anishinabe and Mdewakanton Dakota. More conflicts occurred when “the French instigated fights between the Ojibwe and Dakota so as to ally themselves with the Ojibwe”, as previously stated on the Minnesota DNR web site.

Then, in 1745, at the time of the culmination of the Mde Wakan (Spirit Lake) area fights, the Mdewakanton Dakota were driven into the Minnesota and Mississippi river valleys by the French/Europeans and Ojibwe. The French tricked and used the Ojibwe (who they had supplied with firearms, gunpowder and alcohol) to do their dirty work of violently annexing the unarmed Dakota from their sacred Mde Wakan homeland. The invading Ojibwe through gunpowder bombs down the smoke hole openings of the Dakota’s earthen homes. Many Dakota people, including women and children were killed during this French sponsored terrorist attack. (ref.) .. (ref.)

Then, in 1863, the Dakota were forcibly removed again. After the Dakota were annexed from their sacred Mde Wakan homeland and then forced to move to the southern half of the state, this horrendous traumatic transition brought them into close contact and consequential cultural-clash conflicts with the white invaders/settlers. From that point on, survival for the Dakota became a daily struggle. The “daily struggle” escalated and eventually caused the historic 1862 “Dakota Uprising”. Then, the bloody five-week uprising had numerous traumatic results. The tragedy of the war losses was very traumatic. And the many injustices that occurred in the wake of the uprising, imprisonment, 38 hangings, bounties, concentration camps, forced marches, and the forced removal of the Dakota people from Minnesota, was a purposeful genocide and ethnic cleansing, and a tragic chapter of Dakota history from which the nation has yet to recover.

After the war, those who had not escaped or been put in concentration/internment camps were executed by hanging. Thirty-eight Dakota war prisoners were hanged as common “criminals” on December 26, 1862, in Mankato. It remains the largest mass execution in American history. The entire Dakota population of about six thousand was effectively removed from Minnesota by fleeing, forced removal, or death. A group of nearly sixteen hundred Dakota people, mainly women, children and elderly, were force-marched from southwestern Minnesota to Fort Snelling. Between one hundred fifty and three hundred people died while at the concentration camp, mostly from disease and malnutrition. Bounties for Dakota scalps, mutilation of dug up dead Dakota bodies, concentration camps, forced marches, forced removals/ethnic cleansing took place in Minnesota. The ethnic cleansing of Dakota people from Minnesota was one part of the fulfillment of a larger policy of ethnocide and genocide.

Today the descendants of the 1863 expelled Dakota people live primarily on two reservations: the Nebraska location and the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. The Dakota who live on tribal lands in Minnesota are largely descended from “friendlies” – a small group of Dakota families who, following the U.S.-Dakota war, were deemed non-threatening and allowed to return. They established four tiny reservations that represent a small fraction of their former Minnesota land.

In a Twin Cities Metro Magazine article titled Dakota Rising, its author, John Lurie, wrote: “Wyatt Thomas believes that the only way for the Dakota to regain their former status as a prosperous, powerful and healthy nation is for his people to embrace their traditional culture.” He recently traveled from the Santee Reservation in Nebraska to Minnesota where he first visited his people’s Mille Lacs Lake area traditional homeland. Thomas was on a mission to reintroduce the Santee Dakota to their original Mdewakanton Dakota homeland. He referred to an ancient Dakota village on the shore of Ogechie Lake on the Wakpa Wakan (Spirit River) near Lake Mille Lacs as his “home”.

Thomas is one voice in a growing chorus of indigenous cultural leaders who agree that the reclamation of traditional lands is crucial to healing the mental health crisis associated with the trauma caused by the Dakota people’s forced displacement from their sacred traditional homelands in Minnesota. Thomas said: “When I go home to Santee, I will tell the relatives that everything we seek for healing – the herbs, the medicines and the stones – are still there in Minnesota, and we must return to them. I will tell them to remember that all of Minnesota is Dakota land. Even though they took it from us, one day we will have it back. One day it will be ours again, when the time is right.”

On July 2009, the Mille Lacs Messenger, Mille Lacs County’s official newspaper, published a letter of mine, titled Sacred Homeland . A quote from the letter reads: “The Mdewakanton Dakota people are coming back to reclaim their sacred Mille Lacs homeland, and I am preparing the way for them to return and reclaim it. They’re coming to reclaim their sacred land, lake, river headwaters and full independent sovereign nation status and rights.”

And on August 5, 2009, another quote from a Mille Lacs Messenger letter of mine, titled Restore Ogechie reads: “I support the effort to restore Ogechie Lake. I am working to influence the U.S. government and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe to give Ogechie Lake back to the Dakota Indians in a restored condition.”

On a new web page I’ve compiled information about my several Mille Lacs Messenger letters associated with my effort to rectify injustices against the Oceti Sakowin or Dakota Oyate (people) within their Mille Lacs Lake area traditional homeland. Also, titles (and links) to related articles, including The importance of Mille Lacs Lake in the history and culture of the Dakota people, Reclaiming Minnesota..Mini Sota Makoce, the Dakota homeland and Oceti Sakowin rights activist initiatives are displayed.

Valerie Larson, the Urban American Indian Health Coordinator for the Office of Minority and Multicultural Health, says: “The Dakota people, due to the brutality of their historic treatment, are afflicted with a sort of collective post-traumatic stress disorder. They are up against a mountain of complex challenges unique to them as a tribal nation. The only solution, she says, is a return to traditional ways of being, which can only occur by reclaiming the land upon which the people once thrived. When driven from your homeland, and your way of life that you held sacred, that your parents and grandparents and all your people that came before held sacred, when you are an exile in your own land, it changes you spiritually and mentally. So much so that you end up with an affliction akin to chronic depression.”

LeMoine LaPointe, director of the Twin Cities Healthy Nations Program at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, has been at work for the past three years helping Dakota people do exactly what Larson is calling for: reclaiming their lands, waterways, health and culture through what LaPointe calls “indigenous health expeditions.” A canoe expedition departed from the mouth of Mille Lacs Lake’s outlet river, the badly name “Rum River”, the morning of Tuesday, June 24, 2008. The Wakan Wakpa (Spirit River), the Dakota’s sacred name for the river, is an important spiritual and cultural artery to the Dakota who, until 1745, lived at Lake Mille Lacs (Mde Wakan – Spirit Lake) and considered it the center of their world.

LaPointe says it’s also important to the health of Native American people that the river be called by its original name. Rum is a pollutant, a destructive chemical. It’s not a poison river, it’s a holy river. At the time of this expedition, Lapointe said: “These young people are taking the initiative to scout the length of the river in order for their tribe to become familiar with it, and in so doing, reclaim their tribal legacy.”

Anoka, Minnesota is located at the confluence of the Wakan/”Rum” and Mississippi Rivers. During a meeting that Jim Anderson, the Co-Cultural Chair and Historian for the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, and I had with the mayor of Anoka, in Anoka – Anderson told the mayor of Anoka that the Dakota people would be returning to their sacred Wakan River Watershed Traditional Homeland to reclaim it, including the area now named Anoka and that the first city that the Dakota will be returning to and reclaiming will be Anoka. Anderson’s appearance in Anoka during the 2007 Anoka County Sesquicentennial Celebration was, as stated in a flier that Anderson pasted out during the event, was the beginning of the Dakota people’s return to the Anoka area of their sacred river (Wakpa Wakan) watershed traditional homeland. (ref.)

In 2008, at Chief Leonard Wabasha’s request, I addressed a Talk Circle during a “Great Dakota Homecoming” event in Winona, MN.. This Talk Circle was also a Minnesota Sesquicentennial event. After addressing the Talk Circle the Winona Daily News published a letter of mine about the Talk Circle and the MN Sesquicentennial Commission’s public acknowledgement that Minnesota committed ethnocide and genocide against its Indigenous people. Quotes from the letter read: “When Minnesotans acknowledge the painful wounds of ethnocide and genocide…they will be inspired to go through a radical social, political and religious transformation…a peaceful cultural revolution will occur, and Minnesotans will be changed for the better”. (ref.)

I believe that a peaceful cultural revolution will soon occur and that non-Native Minnesotans will, by showing appropriate respect for Native people, be changed for the better. I also believe that current Minnesota Dakota Natives as well as the exiled from Minnesota Dakota Oyate will return to their sacred traditional Minnesota homelands and reclaim/regain them and that they will also be changed for the better.

I believe that indigenous people’s biggest battle is with addictions associated with alcohol, tobacco, drug and gambling abuse…etc., and that most of Minnesota’s tribes are caught up in that which promotes the use and abuse of addictive products, casino gambling businesses and sale of alcohol and tobacco products. Alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse as well as violent behavior, gangs, etc. are rampant amongst Minnesota’s indigenous people. Therefore, I am requesting that they break away from this way of life and get back to their good traditional values. In respect to Minnesota’s Mdewakanton Dakota Oyate, I have, by way of a letter, requested that they return to their Lake Mille Lacs area traditional homeland and reclaim it. In the letter, I also wrote: “I have been preparing the way for this to occur and it is now time for this peaceful revolutionary change to take place”.

I and the other directors of the Rum River Name Change Organization recently established a Oceti Sakowin Homecoming Commission which is now making plans for an event wherein the Oceti Sakowin will be sent an invitation to return to their Lake Mille Lacs (Mde Wakan -Spirit Lake) area traditional homeland – to, at least for a day or two, honor their Mde Wakan area ancestors and reconnect with their heritage in this sacred place where there is a Oceti Sakowin creation story.

About Wahkon

I am an activist who is spearheading an international movement to change the name of a Minnesota river (the Rum River) back to its sacred Dakota Indian name [Wakan], which translated means Spirit or Great Spirit.