Dakota gather at Fort Snelling, recall their exile

A man shoots an imaginary bow and arrow.
A man shoots an imaginary bow and arrow from the roof of Historic Fort Snelling's tower during the Dakota Truth-Telling Gathering in St. Paul last Thursday.
Evan Frost | MPR News


For the first time, Dakota people whose ancestors were exiled from Minnesota 154 years ago met last week at Fort Snelling. It was just below the fort, where women, children, and the elderly were put onto steamboats and sent down the Mississippi, up the Missouri, then to the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota.

Eventually, families that survived went to the Dakotas, to Montana, to Canada and elsewhere. Some of their descendants returned there for a four-day conference called Dakhota Wowičakhe Woyakapi Omničiye, or Dakota Truth-telling Gathering. The meeting ended on Sunday.

As the families met, many hugged and wept, sharing their histories. "The argument that this space was put here to keep Dakota and Ojibwe people at peace, that's not actually the way we view this history," said Kate Beane, a Dakota historian who works for the Minnesota Historical Society.

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"The way we view this history is that this fort was put here to pave the way for European settlement," she said. "It is a symbol of colonization, of imperialism, of years of unjust negotiations and dealings with our community. Two of our warriors were hanged right over here, outside of the round tower. .. So sometimes if you hear 38 plus two, those were the two. They were kept in prison here, and that's where their lives ended, for us to live."

Riding for his ancestors: Seth Eastman

Seth Eastman, who also goes by Iyokpiya (Doesn't Make Them Happy), is a Dakota horse-rider from Sisseton, S.D.

To honor his ancestors who were interned at Fort Snelling 154 years ago, and later exiled from Minnesota, he and two other horse-riders met at the U.S. border with Canada and rode to Fort Snelling for the historic Dakhota Wowičakhe Woyakapi Omničiye that ended Sunday.