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Using the Dakota War to talk about racism, stereotypes and violence

Jim Bear Jacobs
Eyes Wide Open screenshotJim Bear Jacobs

Jim Bear Jacobs’ work to get people talking about race and American Indian history started with a dream. The conversation begins Monday, Oct. 15.

His dream: “I was on a hill, overlooking an area, looking at a sculpture and the sculpture was a burial scaffold. And on it was hanging 38 feathers to commemorate the 38 Dakota warriors hanged 150 years ago.”

For weeks, asleep or awake, he couldn’t shake the memory of it, realizing how it symbolized the mass hanging at Mankato in 1862 of 38 American Indians at the end of the United States-Dakota War. But he wasn’t seeing the dream’s significance. 

“I’m not Dakota; I’m Mohican,’’ he says.

Then, revelation: He grew to see the dream as a spiritual calling to bring the historic events of 150 years ago this December to the attention of the wider community and to get people to begin to understand the impact, even today.

Too often, he says, the wider culture ignores this indigenous population and has little knowledge of its history.

Suddenly his involvement with the St. Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN), and their efforts to address racism, differences, stereotypes, peace and violence made sense.

Oct. 15 Jacobs and a group of other volunteers from SPIN, which is hosted by the St. Paul Council of  Churches but involves diverse faith congregations and communities, open a series of four fall community conversations called “Remembering and Honoring Dakota Stories” ( also Wokiksuye K’a Woyuonihan).

The event kicks off at 7 p.m. at Anderson University Center at Hamline University in St. Paul with the showing of the documentary film “Dakota 38,’’ an enactment of a 330-mile horseback journey from South Dakota to the hanging site in Mankato. Following the film Lakota Spiritual Leader Jim Miller and Alberta Iron Cloud, Oglala Lakota, will have a conversation with the audience.


The trailer for "Dakota 38."

The next three Monday evening sessions will continue with the presentation of Dakota voices, including a tribal historian,  a spiritual leader, an educator/activist, a descendant of the Dakota 38 and American Indian students sharing their hopes for the future at the American Indian Magnet School, 1075 E. Third St. in St. Paul.

Jacobs is also instrumental in arranging other evening showings of the documentary and appearances by Miller and Iron Cloud at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at Benson Great Hall at Bethel University in Arden Hills and at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 in McNeely Hall at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

“A lot of people just don’t know what is going on with American Indian people today to say nothing of what happened 150 years ago,’’ says Paul Tidemann, a retired Lutheran pastor working with SPIN. They “need to understand the gifts and challenges that face American Indian people.’’  

The conversations are sponsored in partnership with the St. Paul Area Council of Churches/ Department of Indian Work, St. Paul Public Schools Indian Education Program and Wesley Center for Service, Spirituality and Social Justice of Hamline University.

On a related note, a display of works by 20 American Indian artists created in response to the 1862 war is now open at the James J. Hill House Gallery, 240 Summit Ave., St. Paul, through Jan. 13.

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Comments (7)

Any Conclusions?

Much has been said this year which seem to attempt to justify the massacre conducted by Dakota renegades ( I use this term because many of the Dakota saw it for the immoral action it was and refused to participate) in August of 1862. Much of the evidence for justification of this behavior is weak or anecdotal . Even hunger (there was no STARVATION among the LOWER Sioux who started the attacks, as is often asserted) is not an excuse for cold blooded murder. The slaughter resulted in some 500 deaths against an unsuspecting and largely unarmed population of settlers, mostly women and children. Little Crow himself chastised his warriors for such conduct.

I will go and listen respectfully to the presentation. I will welcome the opportunity to have the conversation that is invited. But lamenting the execution of 36 men ( there were likely two among the 38 who were innocent ) partly responsible for this slaughter will not be on my agenda.

Our modern responses to the Japanese attacks at Pearl Harbor, or against the perpetrators of the 911 attacks in New York maifest the same need for justice in our time that was legitimately exercised by the hangings in 1862.

Great story

Good story giving good overview of this important series of dialogues. I've met Jim Bear and was moved by his dream and his desire to initiate dialogue about the impact events such as the hanging of the 38. He is an able facilitator of dialogue and I highly recommend that readers of MinnPost attend some or all of these events! They will come away with fresh perspectives and, I hope, new understandings of how such events have impacted Native communities.

A story told in the inpressive thunder of the horses hooves....

...If only those magnificent horses could tell us what they are thinking...wow, powerful, beautiful at the same time.

How long?

Lemme get this straight. I have to go 150 years back to become a victim? Pity. How about addressing the self induced problems that people who take personal responsibility contend with? Grouping people is a fun game however it's the individual that matters. This is 2012 kids, the make em into a crowd of victims era has passed. By the way, being a victim is a choice.

I'll bet most of the victim class problems can be solved with money.

No time travel required

As recently as the 1960s many twin cities hospitals refused to treat Indian People and employers hung signs saying: "Indians need not apply" Ten years ago sacred land was paved over in a futile attempt to shorten traffic time between downtown and the airport. Hundreds of millions of dollars were stolen from Indian trusts by corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs personnel for decades. Every treaty ever signed by the US government has been broken. I'm just scratching the tip of a very large iceberg here.

Despite this history, Indian's are not asking for Mr. Allen's nor anyone elses "sympathy". They do not request that anyone recognize their "victimhood", they merely request your respect as human beings here and now and seek to correct and enhance the historical record that has made us all who and what we are today. No time machine is required to do this and your "pity" is irrelevant.

And speaking of stereotypes

One need go no further than Mr. Allen’s comment.

I’ll just endorse Paul Udstrand’s comment instead.

Word footprints..."tracks we leave behind..."

"We will be known by the tracks we leave behind", Lakota proverb

If words are tracks of a sort, certainly Trailer 38 suggests a creative approach to the past, and with the anticipated initiation of conversations; new word tracks will be those we leave behind; not in compensation for, but hopefully in affirmation; honest realization and understanding of who we were, yet as in our mutual individuality, who we hope to become in all our diversity.

Even in the sprinkling of comments here..."We will be known by the tracks we leave behind."