By Mordecai Specktor
Native acting governor
On Monday, March 6, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz temporarily transferred his executive power to Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Bank of Ojibwe. Walz was under general anesthesia for a colonoscopy, and prior to the procedure he sent a letter to House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate President Bobby Joe Champion about the transfer of power, according to a report in the St Paul Pioneer Press.
I think it’s notable that the state of Minnesota, with its checkered record of relations with Native people, had an American Indian holding top executive power – for a few hours. Many readers are familiar with the history of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War, a bloody conflict with many casualties among both the Dakota and European settlers. The war was followed by a coun- terinsurgency operation designed to drive out the remaining Dakota from the state. Bounties were offered for Dakota scalps.
The Minnesota Historical Society website devotes some space to this horrific chapter in Minnesota history (bit.ly/minn-bounties): “On July 4, 1863, in response to raids by Dakota in southern Minnesota, the state’s Adjutant-General, Oscar Malmros, issued a general order for the establishment of a mounted corps of ‘volunteer scouts’ to patrol from Sauk Centre to the north- ern edge of Sibley County. The scouts provided their own arms, equipment, and provisions, were each paid two dollars a day, and were offered an additional $25 for Dakota scalps. A reward of $75 a scalp was offered to people not in military service; that amount was raised to $200 on September 22. Period newspapers described the taking of many scalps.”
I attended a high school in West St. Paul named after Henry H. Sibley, Minnesota’s first governor and a military leader in the state’s war against the Dakota. In the war’s aftermath, Sibley convened the military com- mission that conducted 392 hasty trials, and condemned 303 Dakota men to death. Pres. Lincoln later pared down the list and the largest mass execution in U.S. history, the hanging of 38 Dakota men, took place on Dec. 26, 1862, in Mankato.
In 2021, Sibley High School was renamed as Two Rivers High School, at the behest of students who did not want to attend a school named after a promoter of genocide. In 2023, a Native woman briefly served as acting governor. Perhaps, we’re making some progress as a society.
On the other hand, much remains to do in the way of confronting our history. There’s a movement across this country to upend the teaching of U.S. history that might hurt the feelings of white students. Specifically, I’m referring to the state of Florida and efforts to ban CRT, critical race theory, which is not taught in any elementary or secondary school. Along with anti-trans bigotry and drag shows, CRT is a prime dog whistle for MAGA-aligned politicians. In other words, the Republicans are appealing to the lowest and meanest common denominator of their base.
A local version of the Republican effort to dumb down public school education occurred during a March state Senate committee hearing on SF 2442, a bill to require “social studies curriculum for middle and high school education on the Holocaust, genocide of Indigenous Peoples, and other genocides …” The curriculum would be introduced by the 2025-2026 school year.
During the Senate panel’s discussion of the proposal, Sen. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) opened his mouth and let some words pour forth: “You know – and I grew up in Wisconsin, so I’m not a historian of Minnesota – but I do understand that the genocides between the white people and the Indians going back included, kind of several genocides each way.”
I haven’t had the chance to contact Drazkowski and get any clarification of his comment about “kind of several genocides each way.” It sounds like he is arguing for “both-sides” of the Holocaust, the Nazi destruction of European Jewry, and genocidal U.S. policies against American Indians. Some states have mandated this kind of both-sides presentations of controversial topics, which makes zero sense when the topic is genocide, the mass murder of a people.
When a Minnesota House committee heard testimony on the curriculum bill, legislators were riveted by the testimony of Dora Zaidenweber, a local survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, according to press reports.
The Star Tribune reported her comments before the House panel: “Mass murders can happen, and people have to understand to learn to live with each other,” said Zaidenweber, who is 99 years old. “It is only through understanding and education that they know who their neighbors are, who the people they are living with and learn to live with.”