Waziyatawin: Take down Fort Snelling

'What Does Justice Look Like?' by Waziyatawin
'What Does Justice Look Like?' by Waziyatawin
Courtesy of Living Justice Press

To Dakota author Waziyatawin, the remnants of Fort Snelling are a stark reminder of Minnesota's founding history. The fort was built on land sacred to the Dakota people.

"For our people, that site is the place of creation," Waziyatawin told MPR News host Tom Weber, explaining the creation myth. "Our people were created literally from the clay of Mother Earth, from that spot."

"It's a sacred spot in that way, but it's also a site where we have this horrendous, violent history: It's not just that the fort was built there, it's also that the fort was a concentration camp. It was a prison. Through the 19th century, you had Dakota people imprisoned there for various crimes. It was always a place of incarceration."

Many Dakota women and children were held there following the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. "We estimate, on our end, that about 300 of our people were killed as a consequence of their imprisonment," Waziyatawin said.

Fort Snelling, which has been restored over the years, is currently managed by the Minnesota Historical Society. But Waziyatawin said that "what happened to Dakota people at that site gets completely minimized."

Waziyatawin is the author of "What Does Justice Look Like? The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland." She joined Tom Weber as part of Indigenous Book Club Month.

In her provocative book, she lays out steps that could be done to make amends for the treatment of Native people in Minnesota: Those steps include tearing down Fort Snelling.

"I mean literally take down the fort," she said. "It's about time."

To her, the structure is "a metaphorical representation of the ongoing celebration of colonialism in Minnesota."

The state could go further, she says, by holding a truth commission and enacting land restoration and reparations.

"I'm interested in land return, which I don't think is as far-stretched as some people initially think," she said. "There are already Minnesotans who are supporting this idea. It's not necessarily as shocking as it first appears."

For the full conversation with Waziyatawin on "What Does Justice Look Like?", use the audio player above.