During Minnesota's Sesquicentennial, Woman from the North has been arrested three times for telling the truth. The year isn't over. I'm not betting against a fourth.
Her name is Waziyatawin, a Dakota (or Sioux) word meaning Woman from the North, and it fits her: Woman from the North has blown fiercely across Minnesota all year long, spreading a provocative message about the genocide and racial oppression that helped pave the way to statehood.
It's not easy to talk about this kind of thing, but there was nothing easy about the way Minnesota was violently torn from its aboriginal tribes.
So Waziyatawin teaches, she talks, she writes and she walks. On Wednesday, she was among a few dozen Indian activists who were on Day Six of a cold and snowy 125-mile march to retrace and commemorate one of the state's least-recognized tragedies: the forced march of hundreds of Dakota into years of exile, starvation and disease after the 1862 Dakota War.
Waziyatawin (friends just call her "Waz") is a member of the Wahpeton Dakota band, grew up on the Upper Sioux Reservation near Granite Falls, and has a doctorate in American history. Her name was Angela Cavender Wilson until she legally adopted the name an Indian grandmother gave her.
This fall, she was named chair of research into indigenous peoples at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. She also has written several books about Minnesota's troubled story. Her latest is called "What Does Justice Look Like?: The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland."
Another book that looks at the Dakota exile has been published by Prairie Echoes Press. The collection of essays by historians including Alan Woolworth and Stephen Osman is called, "Trail of Tears: Minnesota's Dakota Indian Exile Begins."
Waz, who is 40, says most Minnesotans are eager to celebrate the positive things we enjoy in this state, but are unwilling to examine the painful birth of the state and the causes and effects of the race war that followed.
"The Dakota people paid the price for statehood," Waz says, criticizing a sesquicentennial event she says whitewashed reservation life in 1858, the year Minnesota joined the Union.
"The focus was on this happy, benign narrative of Dakota-white friendship. But the truth is, a brutal colonization was going on, when every aspect of Dakota culture was being assaulted. The result was genocide, ethnic cleansing and dispossession. Americans cannot consider themselves moral until these issues are addressed.
"Only six-one-thousandths of one percent of Minnesota belongs to the Dakota today. The vast majority of our people still live in exile from their home. A state with any kind of moral sensitivity would be able to see that the Dakota do not have justice in Minnesota."
The Dakota may not have justice yet, but they are getting lots of court appearances. Waz has seen to that, personally.
Her first arrest came as she helped protesters block a sesquicentennial wagon train that was traveling from Cannon Falls to St. Paul. Her second arrest came on Statehood Day when she stood on the Capitol steps, shouting, while folks in pioneer dresses sang the state hymn, 'Hail! Minnesota," off key. Her third arrest came at Upper Sioux when she interrupted the 1858 reservation tableau. She is unrepentant.
"I want people to start discussing these things, and plant seeds for the future return of land to the Dakota," she says.
Waz figures there are millions of acres of land in Minnesota owned by governments and that some ought to go back to tribes that had their homelands stolen, by fraud and force. She says four steps need to be taken: "truth-telling," "taking down the fort," "reparations" and "de-colonization."
Those ideas may be too big to discuss in this small space. Mull them on your own.
Meanwhile, the Dakota Commemorative March, which began Friday at the Lower Sioux Indian Reservation near Morton, finishes today with a 13-mile final leg from Shakopee to Fort Snelling, where a closing ceremony will be held at 3 p.m., followed by a dinner at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Mendota This is the fourth march, but Waz says non-Indians who drive past and flip the bird to marchers still aren't getting the message.
"A lot of people don't want to hear these things," she says. "They say, 'Get over it!' And 'Why can't you just get along?' I tell them I'll think about trying to get along when there is justice. We're still waiting."
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