Year of Healing Proclamation honors 1862 Dakota Conflict


Members of Twin Cities American Indian Movement (TCAIM), the Episcopal Church of Minnesota, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), and the Native American community at large have partnered to author a Year of Healing Proclamation in honor of the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862.

The proclamation states that, "after one hundred and fifty years of Indigenous People living in an environment of fear, grief, anger and vengeance following the U.S – Dakota Conflict of 1862, the Year 2012 shall be declared the Year of Healing in Minnesota and in so declaring bring attention to the history and current situation of the Indigenous People for the purpose of breaking a vicious cycle of hatred and fostering a spirit of healing among all who call Minnesota their home."

The U.S.-Dakota Conflict is a tragic event in the history of Minnesota. According to resources published by the Minnesota Historical Society and the University of Kansas City-Missouri, the conflict began in August of 1862 after the Dakota were denied their treaty-protected annuity rights. Because the tribe depended on these resources for survival, several bands decided to go to war with the United States government. By September of 1862, after the deaths of over 500 American soldiers and an unknown number of Dakota, 2,000 Dakota men, women and children were taken into custody by the American government. A military tribunal put 393 Dakota to trial for war crimes and eventually condemned 38 of them to death. These Dakota men were killed in Mankato on December 26, 1862 in what remains the largest mass execution in the history of the United States.

The rest of the 1,600 women, children, and elderly captured by U.S. Forces were marched to Fort Snelling near Saint Paul, where they spent the winter as prisoners of war in what many describe as a concentration camp.

In May of 1863, the Dakota who survived the camps were forced to relocate to areas in present-day Minnesota, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and Canada. It is estimated that as a result of the U.S.-Dakota Conflict, 6,000 Dakota people were uprooted from their original homelands.

"They were denied the right to trial and the right to rations. They were raped, abused, tortured, and then shipped off into exile," said Robert Thunder-Reid, a member of TCAIM and a civil rights activist for North and South America.

Thunder-Reid feels that this displacement and violence is still negatively impacting Native people today.

"What it comes down to is inter-generational trauma, stemming what happened in the past," he said.

Thunder-Reid, one of the initiators and authors of the proclamation, began work on the document about a year ago, along with Father Two Bulls of All Saints Episcopal Indian Mission, community member John Lapointe, and members of the DFL. He brought the required number of signatures to the state central committee of the DFL, where it was passed. Thus far, Senators Keith Ellison, Al Franken, and Amy Klobuchar, the City Councils and mayors of both Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Minnesota, and  the El Capitans of Indigenous people of Venezuela have all signed letters in support of the proclamation.

"[Y]our efforts along with others in your community are bringing us together for much-needed reflection and healing," writes Sen. Ellison in his letter.

Along with reflecting on the history of the event and educating the public about the atrocities committed during the Conflict, the eventual goal of the proclamation is to seek a presidential pardon for the 38 Dakota men who were executed.

"The more senators and the more people we petition and we get to sign on, the more success we will have," said Thunder-Reid.

To raise awareness in the community about the U.S.-Dakota Conflict and the proclamation, Thunder-Reid and Father Two Bulls are sponsoring a series of free public events at All Saints Episcopal Indian Mission in May, including roundtable discussions and screenings of the film Dakota 38, produced by Smooth Feather Production.

In the end, Thunder-Reid hopes that the proclamation will shed light on other issues that plague Native communities, such as prescription drug abuse and homelessness.

"If we get this resolution passed, we can use it as a platform to address the other crises going on in our community," he said.