My 2013 "Account of the 1862 Dakota-US War" in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal was not a comparative study. But rereading it now, I am struck by how much that long-ago war in Minnesota resembled today's Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Long before their respective uprisings, the Dakota and the Palestinians had been forced off most of their land and confined to narrow strips where they could not make a living — the Dakota were limited to a 20-mile-wide strip on either side of the Minnesota River, the Palestinians to the Gaza Strip.
The U.S. and Israeli governments both allowed settlers to carve up additional land reserved for Dakota and Palestinians — on reservations in the Dakota case in the West Bank in Palestine.
Most Dakota and Palestinians were not militants. But those who were militant attacked at opportune moments when Americans and Israelis were distracted by internecine conflicts — Americans by their Civil War, Israelis by strife and protests over Benjamin Netanyahu's proposed restructuring of the judicial system.
Dakota warriors murdered, raped and/or mutilated some 500 Minnesotans; Hamas, 1,200 Israelis. Dakota and Hamas fighters took significant numbers of women and children hostage, whom they used as bargaining chips.
American and Israeli military responses were disproportionate. In the wake of the Dakota and Hamas attacks, many more Dakota and Palestinians died than did Americans and Israelis.
The histories leading up to both wars were also comparable. Israel was founded by Zionists, the first American colony by Puritans. Both thought of themselves as God's chosen people arrived in a promised land. Nineteenth-century Scandinavian and German Lutherans who flocked to Minnesota and the Dakotas in search of farmland were only one of the successive waves of immigration that fueled westward expansion and pushed the boundaries of "God's country," along with the Indians, farther and farther west.
The contemporary Native American "land back movement" and the "two-state solution" proposed for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may never come to fruition. But we must hope the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict won't end as the 1862 Dakota-U.S. War did.
Congress declared null and void all treaties with the Dakota and exiled them from Minnesota onto reservations in the Dakotas, many with agency towns that still bear the names of forts put there to keep the Indians from leaving. On my Spirit Lake Dakota reservation, when Fort Totten ceased to be a military installation, it became the Fort Totten Indian school, where Dakota children were dressed in military-style uniforms, Christianized and prohibited from speaking their language, performing their ceremonies or otherwise practicing their culture.
After my uncle was sexually assaulted there, my grandparents took him and their other six children and fled to the Jim Crow South, where they raised them to pass as white and never to speak of being Dakota again.
Doing research for my account of the 1862 Dakota-U.S. War, I read the first three histories published just after it. All three books defended the show trials that took place following the Dakota "massacres" of whites referred to in their titles — trials that led to the largest mass execution in U.S. history, when 38 Dakota prisoners of war were hanged on the day after Christmas, 1862.
Only one book allowed that the Indians had been victimized by traders and defrauded of their land and, therefore, warranted better treatment than they received at the war's end. Even the first history to benefit from Dakota accounts was heavily weighted toward condemnation of their so-called "unprovoked savagery."
The persistence of this narrative — so inimical to healing within Dakota communities and between them and their white neighbors ever since — is a cautionary tale for participants and commentators on both sides of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
John Peacock, of Takoma Park, Md., is professor emeritus of Native American Studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, and an enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation in Fort Totten, N.D.