Friday is the 150th anniversary of the first violent encounter of the US-Dakota War of 1862, a conflict which ended with the largest mass execution in U.S. history and the Dakota people banished from Minnesota.
MPR News has been marking the anniversary by speaking with various people about the implications of the conflict. Stanley Crooks, chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community, spoke with Cathy Wurzer of Morning Edition.
The band runs the highly profitable Mystic Lake and Little Six Casinos near the Twin Cities. Only 150 years ago, their ancestors were starving because promised annuity payments and food had not beendelivered by the U.S. government.
Crooks said there was a division among the Mdewakanton over whether they should attack the European settlers.
An edited transcript of the discussion is below:
Stanley Crooks: Either we're going to change our life and be confined to the reservation and have to work or farm, or we're going to try to take back our land and continue to be hunters and gatherers. And they said, 'That's not going to be possible. It's too late.'
But they said, 'Then we would rather die.'
Now, there's a lot of them said they didn't want to die. But I think there was such a clamor that, 'We're going to go out fighting.' And that's what happened.
Cathy Wurzer: With Little Crow being pretty reluctant to fight.
Crooks: He's the one who said, 'We're probably not going to win. But if this is what you want to do, I'll lead you.'
My family and my ancestors, especially on my father's side, were one of those groups of people that kind of helped out during the outbreak, settlers protected them and helped them get to safety.
If you remember, history reports that even those who helped out were ordered to leave the state. Even those friendlies that Minnesota people wanted to stay. The federal government ordered all to be removed. Some of them didn't leave.
Wurzer: Even those that stayed, weren't there bounties on their heads?
Crooks: Even those that stayed, there was this bounty. If they left whatever compound area they were staying in, they were subject to that bounty.
Wurzer: What are the consequences of the Dakota conflict among all Dakota peoples?
Crooks: The outbreak in 1862 was really the door opener for the western tribes, especially the Lakota and Dakota, on how they were going to be treated. First, they would try to put them on reservations. They knew they would balk at that.
Then they would, I hate to say it, but they had an active plan of extermination. Fortunately, a lot of good people in Washington and other cities said, 'We can't do that. And now we've got to find a way to deal with them.'
Assimilation then becomes the next best thing. As a conquered nation, if they can assimilate us. For whatever reason, Indian people are not amenable to assimilation.
I think it goes all the way back, if you read scripture, to Roman days. In Roman days, they just wiped them out or they took them in. And you've got to take their culture and their language and you've got to become Romans or you're dead. I think the United States practiced a similar practice with Native Americans. It's all about the land, obviously, as they were growing. We were in the way of that. Couldn't find a way to work together. But we're still here and we found a way now to continue to work together.
Wurzer: In 150 years, a whole people was exiled from their native lands. Some whites wanted you exterminated, yet your members survived and you're still here. What's the lesson?
Crooks: For us, we look at our ancestors as perseverance. They held onto the language and they passed it on. They said, 'This is your land, you need to do what you can to maintain a piece of it and pass it on to your children, that they will continue to be part of our land.' That's the way I look at it.
As far as the non-Indian side of it. A lot of people don't even know we're here.
Wurzer: Do the consequences of 1862 still linger for the Dakota people?
Crooks: Yes, I think it does. I know because we celebrate yearly at the Mahkato Wacipi. That's a remembrance, a yearly remembrance.
We have a group of people that just focus on the atrocities committed against the Dakota people. Because of a few, all were punished, and they don't think that was ever fair. And, in fact, they don't even agree that most of those who were hung should have been hung. Most of them were defending their homeland and defending their people. Some did some horrible acts. That was done on both sides, but no one was punished on the other side.
I don't want to discuss all the atrocities, we both did them. Let's look at the outcome. Minnesota just became a state, albeit through a little scandalous acquiring of the land and the treaties.
Indian people believe you can't sell land. They thought they were giving people permission to live there. When they came and said, 'You have to move from the north half over to the south half,' they didn't understand.
'Wait a minute, we didn't give you that land. We just said you could live there.'
'Oh no, you've got to move, you don't own it anymore. It's not yours.'
And that was upsetting.
Wurzer: Do you think the war was avoidable?
Crooks: Yeah, I think if they would have explained to them more about the gold, and the late payments and you're selling the land and here's the benefit of it. I think we would have ended up on that south 10-mile strip from Big Stone down to New Ulm. And that would have been it.
Instead of hunters and gatherers, now we're confined to farming and some kind of menial labor of some kind. Maybe some skilled labor people. But you'd have to be two or three generations because you can't get [rid of] the idea of roaming free and hunting. They'd think that was their job, to be skilled enough to get the game, and find berries and medicinal plants and locations for camping. That was their job, not building houses, chopping trees or plowing the ground.
Wurzer: What lessons do you want European American people to remember as you look back at 1862?
Crooks: That the Dakota people had this great resource that non-Indians needed and wanted. I think we should look back at the way we were dealt with and not deal that way anymore. I don't think we've learned that lessons because the dealings still are not all that great, even as a political entity.
Part of it is that we're conquered people. And we do have limited sovereignty. What I tell our people is, this Congress by a stroke of a pen can say, 'You're no longer a Dakota, you're now a citizen of Shakopee. Have at it like everybody else.'
I always said, that's probably coming.
Interview transcribed by MPR reporter Jon Collins.