St. Paul joined Minneapolis on Wednesday in labeling the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War as the start of "the genocide of the Dakota people" that included holding them after the war "in a concentration camp at the base of Fort Snelling."
The terms, disputed by many historians who believe they don't convey the complexity of the conflict, were included in a resolution that the St. Paul City Council passed unanimously to declare 2013 "the Year of the Dakota" and to show its support for an effort to identify Dakota sites along the Mississippi River.
The St. Paul resolution was patterned on a similar one passed last month by the Minneapolis City Council that pledged more dialogue on issues of "land, reparations and restitution, treaties, genocide, suppression of American Indian spirituality and ceremonies, suppression of indigenous languages, bounties, concentration camps, forced marches, mass executions and forcible removals."
The two city councils are thought to be the first major governmental bodies in Minnesota to use such provocative terms in referring to the war, which marked its 150th anniversary this fall.
"We've now got the Twin Cities of Minnesota coming out with these resolutions," Chris Mato Nunpa, a retired professor and Dakota advocate from Granite Falls, told the St. Paul council after the vote. "What I regard as significant and important is that key terms were used ... I really am elated and excited I have lived long enough to see something like this happen here."
The resolution, sponsored by all but one St. Paul council member, was brought forward by Dave Thune. He said he hoped it would spur discussion about what happened during the war, including the killing of white settlers by the Dakota. "The problem is that people haven't talked about it at all," Thune said.
Gov. Mark Dayton issued a strong statement in August repudiating Gov. Alexander Ramsey's wartime language about exterminating the Indians and driving them out of the state. But Dayton didn't speak of genocide or describe the Fort Snelling camp where hundreds of Dakota were held as a concentration camp, a term that didn't emerge until the 20th century.
"Atrocities were committed by combatants on both sides against combatants and noncombatants alike," Dayton said in his statement.
State Rep. Dean Urdahl, a longtime history teacher whose ancestors were involved in the war and who has introduced resolutions urging Congress to repeal the Dakota Exclusion Act, said he discouraged people from using such terms.
"There are those who do consider Fort Snelling a concentration camp, and there are also many who think it was an internment camp," he said. "Genocide implies extermination of a people. The Minnesota River valley, after the war started, became a war of extermination on both sides. ..."
"I don't think the terms genocide and concentration camp accurately portray what it was without further explanation. Horrible things happened, but it wasn't completely one-sided."
Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035