Friday, August 17, 2012

Flags half staff today 8.17.12

Welcome Home
Governor Mark Dayton’s Statement
Commemorating the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

(Saint Paul) – In commemoration of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, Governor Mark Dayton released the following statement calling for August 17, 2012 to be a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in Minnesota:

"August 17, 1862 marked a terrible period in Minnesota’s history.  The first victims of the “U.S.-Dakota War of 1862” lost their lives on that day, 150 years ago.  The ensuing attacks and counter-attacks killed hundreds more U.S. soldiers, Dakota braves, conniving traders, and innocent people.  Tragically, those deaths started a vicious cycle of hate crimes, which continued long after the war was ended.

The events leading to those atrocities actually began before 1862.  The United State Government, through its agents in the new State of Minnesota, either persuaded, deceived, or forced the state’s long-time inhabitants from Dakota and Ojibwe Indian tribes to give up their lands for promises of money, food, and supplies.  Many of the government’s promises were repeatedly broken.

The displaced Dakota and Chippewa tribes watched newly arrived settlers claim the lands that had been theirs.  They were denied their treaty payments of money and food, which resulted in starvation for many of their children and elderly.  Often, when annuity payments did finally arrive, they were immediately plundered by some dishonest officials and traders.

On August 17, 1862, a group of Dakota braves attacked and killed five new settlers at Acton in Meeker County.  The Dakota community was not unanimous in the decision to go to war; some of them helped the settlers.  Nonetheless, the war began.  Atrocities were committed by combatants on both sides against combatants and noncombatants alike.  Hundreds of people were killed.  Many more Indian and immigrant lives were ruined.  And the lives of Minnesotans were altered for the next 150 years.

The war ended, but the attacks against innocent Indian children, women, and elderly continued.  They were even encouraged by the Governor of Minnesota.

On September 9, 1862, Alexander Ramsey proclaimed:  "Our course then is plain.  The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State. . . .”

"They must be regarded and treated as outlaws.  If any shall escape extinction, the wretched remnant must be driven beyond our borders and our frontier garrisoned with a force sufficient to forever prevent their return." A Minnesota newspaper chimed in, “We have plenty of young men who would like no better fun than a good Indian hunt.”

I am appalled by Governor Ramsey’s words and by his encouragement of vigilante violence against innocent people; and I repudiate them.  I know that almost all Minnesotans, living today, would be just as revolted.  The viciousness and violence, which were commonplace 150 years ago in Minnesota, are not accepted or allowed now.  Yet hostile feelings do still exist between some Native Americans and their neighbors.  Detestable acts are still perpetrated by members of one group against the other.  Present grievances, added to past offenses, make it difficult to commemorate the past, yet not continue it.

I call for the 150th anniversary of August 17, 1862, to be “a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in Minnesota.”  I ask everyone to remember that dark past; to recognize its continuing harm in the present; and to resolve that we will not let it poison the future.

To everyone who lost family members during that time, I offer my deepest condolences for your losses.  I ask you especially to help lead us to better attitudes and actions toward others.

To honor the American soldiers, Dakota people, and settlers who lost their lives in that war, I order that all state flags shall be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on August 17, 2012. And I urge everyone participating in the events commemorating this 150th Anniversary to practice not only remembrance, but also reconciliation."

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What joy to welcome Dakota people as they crossed the border into Minnesota today!!  Our two vans of people from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area woke early to drive the four hours to meet the group at the border around 10 AM.  As carload after carload of Dakota people drove across the state line past us, I found myself weeping.  Personally unexpected, but not surprising.  The Dakota in the cars waved and smiled back at our welcome party that lined the highway next to the expansive cornfield that seemed to engulf the road. 

My son held up a light blue pillowcase that matched the gorgeous sky of a perfect day behind him --Caleb had decorated it himself with bright paints to say "Welcome Home!"   He was literally jumping up and down as he recognized certain families and cars, running up and down the side of the road to greet them.  His smile and energy was reciprocated. Some Dakota held out their hands and waved.  Others honked their horns.  It was the most wonderful parade of cars that stretched on and on. ( Simultaneously, a large group was walking across the border and heading to Pipestone National Monument where the official welcome ceremony would be held).  As the cars of people passed, we were close enough to see some tears accompanied by a full smile across their faces, beautiful faces, smiles that were wider than the corn fields.  Caleb noted the license plates and read them aloud as they passed by "South Dakota...another South Dakota...North Dakota, Wyoming... Canada, Nebraska...another Canada...Mom THIS is AWESOME!!" 
I had hoped to video tape part of the moment or take a picture, but I found myself so caught up in the moment that I never took one.  But the mental picture is permanently etched.  Some of our group along the roadside were lineal descendants of settlers who were here in 1862.  Others were like me, are much more recent transplants to this land.  Different faiths, different colors of skin represented.  We were somehow melted together in this mirror of joy and celebration.  It was unlike any parade I've ever witnessed. 
After the formal ceremony, hundreds headed to the Indian Center in Pipestone where our group was helping prepare the feast.  This allowed more Dakota women to go attend the events rather than be stuck in the kitchen.  They had prepared much of the food in advance and I count it a great joy that I was able to deliver the promised funds from several colleges, places of worship and Minnesota residents who paid for the feast.   Our group finished the last two hours of preparation and set up, getting updates on the expected crowd size that was now over 400.  

We had brought water mellon, cantaloup, strawberries, walnuts, apples to compliment a wide array of dishes and soups and rolls.  Another run to the local store... One local woman worked tirelessly making frybread for hours!  Soon the cars began to pour down the street to the Center and the excitement unfolded again as the parking overflowed into the nearby large fields.  Without permission, I hesitate to share photos of those at the feast, so you just get snapshot of a few of the food tables.
A funny aside: when we were serving the meal, one Dakota family shared with me how fun it was to see a group of crazy white people smiling and waving and greeting them as they crossed the border.  I chuckled as I sheepishly admitted that we were there.  Ha.  

What a contrast to the greeting of Dakota people I've witnessed on other commemorative events as some have been met by questions, protests, rolling eyes.  Avoidance.  Apathy.  Invisibility.  Non acknowledgment.  Of course not all interactions or reactions have been negative, but the contrast to some other events I've witnessed in the past two years was quite palpable.
I remain hopeful that this is not a "check-the-box" event that white people can now feel good and move on.  May this be a vision for how our children treat each other when they are grown and teach their children.  I echo part of the Governor's commemorates a tragic, dark day 150 years ago that set things in motion for destruction.  I pray that today sets that stage for much better days ahead for the Dakota people and for all people who call Minnesota their home.