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Governor Mark Dayton’s Statement Commemorating the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

August 16, 2012

(Saint Paul) – In commemoration of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, Governor Mark Dayton released the following statement calling for tomorrow to be a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in Minnesota:

August 17, 1862 marked a terrible period in Minnesota’s history.  The first victims of the “U.S.-Dakota War of 1862” lost their lives on that day, 150 years ago.  The ensuing attacks and counter-attacks killed hundreds more U.S. soldiers, Dakota braves, conniving traders, and innocent people.  Tragically, those deaths started a vicious cycle of hate crimes, which continued long after the war was ended.

The events leading to those atrocities actually began before 1862.  The United State Government, through its agents in the new State of Minnesota, either persuaded, deceived, or forced the state’s long-time inhabitants from Dakota and Ojibwe Indian tribes to give up their lands for promises of money, food, and supplies.  Many of the government’s promises were repeatedly broken.

The displaced Dakota and Chippewa tribes watched newly arrived settlers claim the lands that had been theirs.  They were denied their treaty payments of money and food, which resulted in starvation for many of their children and elderly.  Often, when annuity payments did finally arrive, they were immediately plundered by some dishonest officials and traders.
 
On August 17, 1862, a group of Dakota braves attacked and killed five new settlers at Acton in Meeker County.  The Dakota community was not unanimous in the decision to go to war; some of them helped the settlers.  Nonetheless, the war began.  Atrocities were committed by combatants on both sides against combatants and noncombatants alike.  Hundreds of people were killed.  Many more Indian and immigrant lives were ruined.  And the lives of Minnesotans were altered for the next 150 years.

The war ended, but the attacks against innocent Indian children, women, and elderly continued.  They were even encouraged by the Governor of Minnesota.

On September 9, 1862, Alexander Ramsey proclaimed:  "Our course then is plain.  The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State. . . .”

"They must be regarded and treated as outlaws.  If any shall escape extinction, the wretched remnant must be driven beyond our borders and our frontier garrisoned with a force sufficient to forever prevent their return."
 
A Minnesota newspaper chimed in, “We have plenty of young men who would like no better fun than a good Indian hunt.”

I am appalled by Governor Ramsey’s words and by his encouragement of vigilante violence against innocent people; and I repudiate them.  I know that almost all Minnesotans, living today, would be just as revolted.  The viciousness and violence, which were commonplace 150 years ago in Minnesota, are not accepted or allowed now.

Yet hostile feelings do still exist between some Native Americans and their neighbors.  Detestable acts are still perpetrated by members of one group against the other.  Present grievances, added to past offenses, make it difficult to commemorate the past, yet not continue it.

I call for tomorrow, the 150th anniversary of August 17, 1862, to be “a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in Minnesota.”  I ask everyone to remember that dark past; to recognize its continuing harm in the present; and to resolve that we will not let it poison the future.

To everyone who lost family members during that time, I offer my deepest condolences for your losses.  I ask you especially to help lead us to better attitudes and actions toward others.
 
To honor the American soldiers, Dakota people, and settlers who lost their lives in that war, I order that all state flags shall be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on August 17, 2012.

And I urge everyone participating in the events commemorating this 150th Anniversary to practice not only remembrance, but also reconciliation.