Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Nevertheless, I think the Dakota people of Minnesota can make a case for what they lost. In 1862, nearly 150 years ago, they decided to rid themselves of the White people who were systematically taking their river valley land. They went, as White folks like to say, "on the warpath," leaving hundreds of Minnesota pioneers dead in a month-long rampage that was a bloody horror.
When finally the colonist's militia prevailed, White folks became the savages, sentencing 300+ Dakota warriors to hang. President Lincoln intervened and amended the list so that on December 26, 1862, only thirty-some hung in what is still the largest mass execution in American history. Hundreds of other Dakota--men, women, and children--were marched off to camps where that winter they suffered starvation and death. Many died. Most of those who survived were "resettled" in reservations in Nebraska and South Dakota.
What horrors the Dakota perpetuated on Minnesota pioneer families--and what they did was awful--has to be understood as an attempt to wrest back their homeland and their way of life from the hundreds of white settlers streaming into the Minnesota River valley they called home.
Waziyatawin, a Dakota scholar who uses her Dakota name, calls what happened "colonization, ethnic cleansing, and genocide." Furthermore, by using the United Nations' own definitions of those words, she creates a powerful case in a book I just read, What Does Justice Look Like? The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland. Her people, the Dakota people, suffered everything she claims they did.
But, given all of that, what does justice look like? Waziyatawin, who has a doctorate in history from Cornell University, frequently alludes to the story of European Jews, who were given a homeland in Palestine and encouraged to immigrate from all over Europe and Asia. She thinks the Dakota in diaspora, wherever they are, should also be given a homeland, a place for them to return to their own culture in Minnesota's vast government lands.
Years ago, I heard a Lakota Christian preacher talk about doing something, somehow, about America's "original sin." I'm a Calvinist. I had to chuckle a bit as his use of the term because what he meant was that American's "original sin" was what had been done to his Native people. America was in decline, he said--abortion, gay marriage, the whole litany of woes--because it hadn't come to grips with its own "original sin." Until it did--until it recognized what it did to Native peoples--the country couldn't be blessed.
So White folks will just go on calling their world Sioux Center and Sioux County and Siouxland, when there isn't a trace of Sioux culture within miles. Maybe we ought to tag the area "Whiteland" instead of Siouxland.