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On Minn., SD border, ceremony marks Dakota war

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Chief Arvol Looking Horse
Chief Arvol Looking Horse, of the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, prepared to lead the Dakota Wokiksuye Walk to Minnesota on Friday, August 17, 2012 in Flandreau, South Dakota.
Caroline Yang for MPR

One-hundred-fifty years after the government exiled most Dakota from Minnesota following the U.S. Dakota War of 1862, more than 250 people made a symbolic return to the state.

On Friday afternoon, Dakota people and their supporters gathered at the center of Highway 30, just across the South Dakota border. The Minnesota State Patrol closed down the highway, and Minnesota grandmothers linked hands with grandmothers from outside the state in a ceremony to welcome back the exiles. Amidst singing and chanting, the group crossed the border.

Marina James, 76, came all the way from Canada. Both her grandfathers fled Minnesota after the war. The U.S. government was offering a bounty of up to $200 for captured Dakota.

"They said they traveled at night, and hid in the daytime," James said.

Most exiles settled in North Dakota or South Dakota, but others fled to states like Nebraska or Montana.

Friday's event finished up in Pipestone, Minn. That's where the Dakota have traditionally quarried the stones they use to make their ceremonial pipes.

Speakers talked about the painful history of the war and its aftermath: the mass hanging of 38 Dakota in Mankato and the tribe's exile from the state. Several speakers said they're taking part in the ceremony because they want their children to know the history and culture of their people.

Eugene Saul of Santee, Neb. said the event demonstrated that the Dakota people are united, despite being scattered geographically.

"We're lost in time. I mean, they took away our religion and our culture," Saul said. "And we're coming back to Minnesota, and hopefully we can start finding the things that have been absent from us for 150 years."

Hundreds of settlers, soldiers and Dakota were killed during the six-week conflict. Many Dakota also died in the conflict's aftermath, as they were held in an internment camp or hunted for bounty.

Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday repudiated comments made by Minnesota Gov. Alexander Ramsey after the war, when Ramsey said the Dakota should be exterminated or driven from the state. Dayton declared Friday a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in the state.

Jon Collins reported from St. Paul.