Nearly 150 years after Gov. Alexander Ramsey called for the extermination or removal of the Dakota people from Minnesota, his modern-day successor on Thursday denounced his strong words.
"I am appalled by Governor Ramsey's words and by his encouragement of vigilante violence against innocent people; and I repudiate them," Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement released Thursday. "The viciousness and violence, which were commonplace 150 years ago in Minnesota, are not accepted or allowed now."
Dayton called for flags to fly at half-staff from sunrise to sunset Friday, declaring it a day of remembrance and reconciliation on the 150th anniversary of the start of the six-week U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
He asked Minnesotans "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."
Hundreds of Dakota were gathering Thursday in Flandreau, S.D., for a ceremony planned Friday along the Minnesota-South Dakota border to symbolically welcome back to Minnesota the Dakota who were exiled after the war. Dakota leaders had urged Dayton to condemn Ramsey's statement, and word of his repudiation quickly spread.
"I got the chills when I heard. Oh, man, that is such a good feeling," said Corbin Shoots the Enemy, a member of the Crow Creek Tribe that lives on a South Dakota reservation where many Dakota were sent after the war. "It's hard to explain the feeling I have right now, but I say thank you to the governor. We're coming home."
On Sept. 9, 1862, Ramsey was furious over the killing of roughly 600 settlers and soldiers when he addressed the Legislature and said: "The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state."
Dayton went on to say Thursday that "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."
He offered condolences to descendants who lost ancestors in the war, saying, "I ask you especially to help lead us to better attitudes and actions toward others."
Aug. 17, 1862, "marked a terrible period in Minnesota's history," the governor said, referring to the day that five settlers were shot and killed in Meeker County's Acton Township. The four Dakota hunters involved went to their leaders, who decided to launch a full-scale war to win back lands given up in unfulfilled treaties.
"The first victims ... lost their lives on that day," Dayton said. "The ensuing attacks and counterattacks 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."
Dayton noted that before the war, the U.S. government "through its agents in the new state of Minnesota, either persuaded, deceived or forced the state's longtime 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 Dakota community was not unanimous in the decision to go to war," Dayton said. "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."
Curt Brown • 612-673-4767