Letter to the editor:


Response to Metro State Students Protest article in January

We at the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) very much appreciate the chance to add our perspective to an article from the January issue of The Circle, "Metro State students protest lack of Native classes offered in 2012."

We deeply regret that the protestors’ petition, cited in the article, maligns our organization and the work of our staff, repeating old accusations. MHS has worked hard and in good faith, with the help of many American Indian communities, to strengthen and increase its programming related to American Indian history generally and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 in particular. Perpetuating generalizations serves no good when the topic is so important and the educational need so great.

The history of MHS is permanently entwined with the history of the Dakota. MHS was founded in 1849 by some of the same men who were taking Dakota and Ojibwe lands for settlement. Some of our founders participated in businesses that exploited native people and in governments that acted deplorably. Many led or fought in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862; they did and said things that are reprehensible.

Through the years, MHS has been influenced by the temperament and the tenor of the times. At times, our interpretation did not adequately reflect Dakota perspectives and MHS was silent when we should have talked about the historical trauma surrounding the war.

Today, we continue to evolve as an organization dedicated to preserving the history of our state and all of its people. This year, the 150th year since the war, we’re working harder than ever to record oral histories from Dakota people throughout Minnesota, the Midwest and Canada to ensure that their truths, experiences and viewpoints are part of the permanent historical record. We’re also working hard to provide many new opportunities for people of all ages to learn about the war, how it shaped our state and how its bitter consequences are still felt today.

Today, we are listening more closely to the Dakota, with a new commitment to inclusiveness, openness and transparency. We can do better and we’re committed to that effort. The Minnesota Historical Society has a lot to learn from the Dakota and a lot to learn about itself. Together we can be powerful educational partners.

This year, we will remember the war with a series of educational efforts, supported in part by the Legacy Amendment:

Minnesota Tragedy: The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 Exhibit Beginning in July, a new exhibit at the Minnesota History Center will offer visitors the opportunity to view documents, images and artifacts relating to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. The exhibit will incorporate multiple points of view on the war, its causes and its aftermath.

Exhibit development is one aspect of the "Truth Recovery Project," a process through which exhibit staff members are meeting with Dakota and non-Dakota descendants of those touched by the war. Meeting participants are taking an active role in shaping the exhibit by discussing the significance and interpretation of artifacts and primary sources from the Society’s collections.

U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 Website (www.usdakotawar.org): This interactive website will tell stories of the war and its aftermath through oral histories, photos, journals, letters, newspapers, government documents and other primary resources. The site will also provide resources for classroom use. The site will debut in phases throughout this year.

Oral History Project Society: staff members are recording dozens of oral histories from Dakota people throughout Minnesota, the Midwest and Canada, as well as settler descendants to be entered into the Society’s permanent collection. Later this year, full transcripts and audio versions will be available to the public at on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 website.

Minnesota River Scenic Byway Mobile Tour: In May, the public will hear multiple perspectives and stories told by Dakota and non-Dakota descendants of those touched by the war in this media-rich cell phone tour of significant places along the Minnesota River Valley. The tour will also be available online and by phone from any location.

Additional Initiatives: Other new initiatives related to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 include publications, educational tools, interpretive signage at historic sites related to the war, a children’s photo project and public programs.

We hope many people will take advantage of these new opportunities for a deeper understanding of this tragic and important chapter in our state’s history. These traumas are a part of us, as Minnesotans, as Dakota, as Americans.

We believe that if we are to move forward, we must look back to learn. We must be willing to talk and to work together in good faith. Without the truth, there can be no peace.

Steve Elliott

Director and CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society