In his recent effort to challenge today’s multiplying calls to more accurately assess, frame and describe events from the past soaked with injustice and those persons who were intimately involved in perpetuating those injustices, D.J. Tice awkwardly steps into the deep waters of the history of the Dakota people in this part of world that is now called Minnesota (“With malice toward all, with charity for none,” June 21).
Tice’s commentary can be read to draw some equivalence between the Dakota people living here in the 1850s and ’60s and the Confederacy. Did he intend to include the Dakota in his description of “failed insurrectionists who dared rise up against the dominant order”? Was he calling the Dakota “enemies,” “traitors” and now “posthumous heroes” in relation to the “all-conquering civilization”?
If this was not Tice’s intent, he should have been more precise. If it was his intent, it is unfortunate. There is no equivalence between a regime protecting the economic interests of slave owners and an Indigenous people desperate to avoid starvation while coming to the realization that their centuries old way of life was being destroyed by people they wanted to trust.
His strained and clumsy comparison of the use of Dakota words and names for geographic locations and the names of Confederate generals used for present day military bases suggests a lack of appreciation of the obvious difference between the two. It minimizes the long list of corrupt deals and broken promises that led to those tragic events in 1862. It demonstrates a lack of empathy for the Dakota people faced with the unthinkable choices placed before them at that time.
Tice’s suggestion that the whole story about the Dakota must be told sounds like an attempt to re-litigate what is well documented. The whole story of the French, British and American settlement of Dakota territory ultimately leads to the same uncontroverted facts: The Americans and new Minnesota settlers cheated and swindled the Dakota out of their land and resources, pushed the Dakota toward starvation in order to subdue and control them and secure treaty concessions, decimated them with overwhelming military force, held them in squalid prison camps before expelling a large majority of them outside of the state and then executed 38 Dakota men in what is known as the largest formalized mass execution in the history of the United States. The 303 who were sentenced to death, including the 38 who were executed in Mankato, were provided due process that consisted of trials that lasted, on average, 15 minutes.
The Dakota have experienced some semblance of recovery from these events only in the last few decades. Most Dakota continue to confront the debilitating effects of this country’s policies imposed on their ancestors and them.
The harsh truth about the corrupt dealings of the likes of Alexander Ramsey, Henry Sibley and a list of other figures of Minnesota history with the Dakota is accepted by historians who study and write about these events. Any praise given to the names and images of Ramsey and Sibley may fairly be viewed by Dakota people no differently than most Native Americans view Christopher Columbus or how Jewish people view Adolf Hitler or Heinrich Himmler. The harsh truth further includes that, at one point, there were bounties placed on the lives of Dakota. Ramsey approved the bounties. There is nothing vague about this fact and it is not left behind some veil. Dakota people remember.
Tice’s superficial treatment of the history of the Dakota is most evident when he states that the boundless indictment of American history comes from the “woke left.” The harsh truths about the treatment of the Dakota or all Native people in the United States do not fit within the political paradigm of left vs. right. How to assess and describe official government policy of genocide and the execution of that policy is pretty much apolitical.
For the Dakota, as long as there are injustices today that are the remnants of past injustices and atrocities, it is fair for them to continue to question versions of American history and culture that ignore those injustices and atrocities.
William J. Hardacker is general legal counsel, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.