Minnesota History: Building A Legacy

Commemorating the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

Blue Mounds State Park

Blue Mounds State Park, southwest Minnesota. Minnesota’s earliest
inhabitants held views on land use and ownership that contrasted sharply
with farmers who moved to the Minnesota River Valley in the 1800s. Those
opposing views led to deadly warfare, the effects of which can still be felt
today. Photo courtesy Jim Brandenburg.

“Minnesota”—from the Dakota “Mini Sota Makoce,” or “land of cloudy waters.”

Though 150 years have passed since the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, the war, its causes and its aftermath remain central to the story of Minnesota.

The historical trauma the war created still echoes in those living today.

“It can be tempting to turn away from the pain of these events, to deal with the trauma by suppressing it,” said Minnesota Historical Society Director Stephen Elliott. “But if history matters, we cannot turn away from it. We cannot shrink from our history.”

In 2012, the sesquicentennial of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, Minnesotans will find many new opportunities to learn about the war, how it shaped our state and how the war’s bitter consequences are still felt today.

Exhibit: The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

“The events surrounding the war had a profound impact in shaping Minnesota as we know it today.”
~ Dan Spock, Director, Minnesota History Center

On June 30, 2012,  an exhibit called  "Minnesota Tragedy:  The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862" will open at the Minnesota History Center. Inside, visitors will examine evidence from the war: documents, images and artifacts from the Society’s collections.

Accession records will accompany artifacts so visitors will know how they were acquired. Commentary from descendants of those touched by the war will provide multiple viewpoints. Throughout the exhibit, visitors will be encouraged to draw their own conclusions about what happened and why.

“The impact of historical trauma passes from generation to generation,” said Dan Spock, Director of the Minnesota History Center. “This trauma still resonates with the Dakota and with descendants of settlers in the Minnesota River Valley.”

The process used to create the exhibit has been dubbed the “Truth Recovery Project.” It is inspired by Healing Through Remembering, a group that deals with the legacy of conflict in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Truth recovery can be defined as the uncovering and revealing of ‘what happened.’ A truth recovery process could be defined as: that which systematically and methodically attempts to uncover, research, record, and validate as much as is possible of ‘what happened.’
~ Conversation Guide on Dealing with the Past, Healing Through Remembering

The truth recovery process involves meetings between exhibits staff and descendants of those touched by the war to discuss what the exhibit should and should not include.

“We are committed to an open, transparent process in developing this exhibit. It may open as a work in progress as we continue to gather more viewpoints and have more conversations,” said Exhibit Developer Kate Roberts.

The exhibit is being created with $240,000 from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Amid the many perspectives on the events related to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, there is consensus on at least one point: 150 years later, the story of the war still needs to be told.

“These things need to be told so that we can heal as Dakota people. To us, history is a healing process.”
~ Clifford Canku, Dakota author and professor

“The search for understanding must continue. To not keep alive and commemorate this era would be an affront to the American Indians and pioneers who persevered and contributed to the building of Minnesota.”
~ Fred Juni, New Ulm resident and descendant of Brown County settlers

Other 1862 initiatives

In 2012, Arts and Cultural Heritage funds are supporting a broad range of other initiatives to commemorate the war including:

U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 Website
An interactive website will tell stories of the war and its aftermath through oral histories, photos, journals, letters, newspapers, government documents and other primary resources. The site will also provide resources for classroom use.

Oral History Project
Society staff is collecting oral histories from Dakota elders and settler descendants. Full transcripts and audio versions will be available to the public online.

Public Programs
Public programs throughout 2012 will provide multiple perspectives on the war and give voice to Dakota history and identity through a variety of formats including lectures, films, tours and workshops.

Minnesota River Byways Mobile Tour
The public will hear multiple perspectives and stories told by descendants of those touched by the war in this media-rich cell phone tour of significant places along the Minnesota River Valley.

Projects include a book titled The Dakota Land Project by Gwen Westerman and Bruce White and digital audio language resources to accompany the publication of Beginning Dakota/Tokaheya Dakota Iapi Kin Teacher’s Edition.

Art Exhibit
Contemporary American Indian artists will show works related to the war. The exhibit will open at All My Relations Art Gallery and later move to the James J. Hill House.

Legalities Exhibit
William Mitchell College of Law and the Society will collaborate on an exhibit focusing on treaties and legal matters related to the war.

Children’s Photo Project
Young people, including children of Dakota heritage, will use cameras to produce “day in the life” images for use online and/or in publications.