Dakota 38 Revisited

Here is a letter I wrote for a local newspaper in support of the film Dakota 38.

On February 10th I had the privilege of viewing the film called Dakota 38 at the Weitz Center at Carleton College. If you are not familiar with this film, I will enlighten you. The film is about the Dakota/United States war of 1862 in Minnesota and the ride that was started to remember it. It is one of the most powerful films I have ever seen. 2012 was the 150th anniversary of this event which ended with the hanging of 38 Dakota Warriors in Mankato. This is the largest mass execution ever in the U.S. I will try to explain briefly what happened.

At that time, the Dakota Indians were confined to reservations of small strips of land along the Minnesota river. They were not allowed to leave the reservation nor were they allowed to hunt. They were supposed to be receiving commodities from the federal government such as food and medicine but most of it was never given to them. They were starving. They went many times to the soldiers to complain but were ignored. Finally they were told, “Go eat grass.” This was the breaking point. The war lasted a few months and was very brutal. In all, more than 500 whites and an unknown number of Native Americans were killed. The government was going to execute 300 natives but Bishop Whipple, Minnesota’s first Episcopal Bishop went to Washington and convinced President Lincoln to only hang 38 of them. The hanging took place on December 26th at 10:00 am in Mankato Minnesota.

A few years ago, A native man named Jim Miller had a dream. He was a Vietnam Vet and a recovering alcoholic. Just like many white people, he had never heard of the Dakota 38. But he dreamed about it. And he dreamed of a ride of healing. From his dream the idea took shape and every year since then they have had a ride on horseback in December over 300 miles from his reservation in South Dakota to the hanging site in Mankato. They stay at farms and other places along the way. People open up their homes to them, feed and house them. They give talks each night about what they are doing and why. Some of it is very emotional. Lots of hugging and crying. They don’t want to blame anyone. No pointing of fingers. They want to heal.

Today, many Native Americans suffer from depression. They have the highest rate of suicide of any people. It is believed that the attempted genocide of the Indian people by the whites severed their deep spirituality and connection with the creator and the land and still causes untold problems today. If you wish to see this powerful film go to smoothfeather.org. Or you can see it on You Tube. I highly recommend it. It is a wonderful thing that Jim Miller and all who participate are doing.

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