Thursday, November 15, 2012

2012 Dakota Commemorative March

"Manipi Hena Owasin Wicunkiksuyapi"
(We Remember All Those Who Walked)

Elders leading the prayer procession past Fort Snelling walls

Read about it in the press:
Saint Paul Pioneer Press
Minnesota Public Radio
Rochester Post BulletinTwin Cities Daily Planet
Nick Coleman: The UpTake


Minneapolis and Historic Fort Snelling beyond the Mendota Bridge
The history of 1862 marks a tragic time for Minnesota, when policies were set in place causing ripple effects are still felt today.  In 1862, approximately 1700 Dakota women, children and elders were force-marched 125+ miles on the “Minnesota Trail of Tears” across the state to the stockade below Fort Snelling for the winter in preparation for their exile.  The entourage traveled approximately 20-25 miles a day. ( It is important to note that most of the Dakota on this walk were noncombatants who voluntarily surrendered to the US soldiers,  and many had actually helped to protect, defend or even rescue the white settlers).  

That autumn, Minnesota Governor Ramsey declared that all Sioux were to be “exterminated or forever removed from the borders” of the state, which led to their exile, beginning with this "Minnesota Trail of Tears" November 7-13, 1862 and followed up with the US Indian Removal Act of 1863 which still is formally on the book.

While the Dakota  families were marched to Fort Snelling, the men were being held in preparation for trial.  Subsequently, the day after Christmas 1862, Mankato became the site of the largest mass execution in US history as 38 warriors were hanged; the remaining prisoners were the forcibly  removed from Minnesota and Dakota hunting missions followed after bounties of $200 were offered. 
During this forced march and the following winter, the Dakota men were locked away from their families and they could neither protect nor  provide for them. By contrast, during the Dakota Commemorative March that just concluded, non-Dakota people were invited to join them in prayer, to help provide for the needs of those who are walking, to help ensure that the Dakota story has an opportunity to be heard, and to symbolically provide support to the Dakota community by being respectfully present.

After spending this week with the Marchers as volunteer medical staff and part of the logistics support crew, my family is now unpacking and processing our individual and collective experience.  I hesitate to share any more from my perspective until I ask the Elders for their permission, but here is a summary from my 8 year old son Caleb's school presentation the day he came back ...

"For the last week November 6-13, my family was part of the 2012 Dakota Commemorative March for honoring and remembering the Minnesota Trail of Tears. Several hundred people met our group at Fort Snelling State Park yesterday -  Tuesday – for the end of  the sacred ceremony after the group had traveled 150 miles.  I rode in the Rotary van and Jordan's van all week when I wasn't walking.  I walked a lot this week --which taught me a lot. The group walks a mile every half hour and stops for the Dakota Grandmas to lead a prayer.

The walk honors the 1,700 Dakota women and children who were forced to march from their reservation at Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling after the U.S. Dakota War of 1862.   These Dakota Indians did not fight in the war and just wanted to be safe, to have food, to have a place to hunt buffalo, to be together  with their family on their homeland. Instead, because some Dakota had fought and killed white people, these Dakota were locked up below Fort Snelling and held in a crammed camp where at least 300 hundred Dakota died that winter.  The rest were told they must leave their homes forever and were sent away to other states, while the men who fought were sent to prison or killed the day after Christmas 1862, the same week President Lincoln freed the slaves.

So every other year, the Dakota elders, women and children choose to walk on the same days of November 7-13 no matter the weather.  This year we had blowing snow,  pretty snow, spitting rain. We even had a blizzard. On another day I wore short sleeves in the sunshine and 70 degrees.  It rained.  It sleeted.  The wind was really hard and my feet hurt. This helped me think about how it would have been 150 years ago.
This is my second time to walk with them.  I am not Dakota but we go with them to help.  I went when I was in Kindergarten and met a boy named Jordan who was in first grade.  We walked and rode in his van for that week along the trail.  This year he is in third grade and we were so excited to see each other again. We are taller and his hair is really long now like many Dakota boys. 

About 50 people went the entire way, with many people coming to walk for part of a day.  We slept in churches, the New Ulm Armory, a high school and on reservation land.  People would bring us food to eat and we would stop along the road in the ditch to eat. We had lots of good food, but they did not have much on the first march in 1862.  We had a port-a pottie.  They did not.  We had a van for when I was tired. They kept walking or were killed. We had a water bottle.  They walked along the Minnesota River and would go take a sip when the soldiers let them.  My legs and feet hurt but I could rest.  Their feet would have hurt more. We had people smile and wave and give snacks.  They had rocks thrown at them and many died. Back then the  soldiers made the Dakota keep walking even if they were sick or tired or their feet hurt or too little to keep up.   On this walk the men and boys helped with security to keep the women and girls safe. Back then the men were in prison far away in Mankato and couldn't protect their families.

Each mile we would stop and the Dakota Grandmas would put in a wood stick that has a cloth red tie on it and a yellow tie with names of two families that were on the walk 150 years ago. This year if someone was on the walk who was related to that family, they would put in the wood stake, hammering it in with a special rock.  Then everyone prays and asks for healing for that family and for all people to get along.

Yesterday we walked the mile across the Mendota Bridge and then the Elders put the rest of the stakes in a circle below Fort Snelling.  They did prayer ceremony and put a new wreath at the memorial.

 After the march we had a feast with hundreds of people.  I plan to do the walk again in two years.  And I hope Jordan will be there.

What I learned: "If you live in Minnesota now, this is part of your history too. It's part of the history that goes with this land.  It is important for non-Dakota people to know how Minnesota was taken away from the Dakota.  And this story is much like other stories across North America.  Everyone who lives here now should take good care of the land and water.  We should offer to listen to those who lost so much. 

I’m only eight but I found out I can make a difference.  I chose to spend time walking, thinking and praying -- and when it was over we figured I walked about 80 miles this week.  I’m a kid and found a way to let them know that we see them and hear them and care.  Just think what you could do because you’re all grown up!  We can be the first to reach out and try to be friends."