Question: 01. Describe, briefly, the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
In early 1862, a government official reported to President Abraham Lincoln about impending violence and rampant government corruption regarding Indian affairs in Minnesota. A few months later, the official’s warning came true. In August 1862, after years of broken treaties and promises and facing starvation, factions of Dakota attacked white settlements, the Lower Sioux Agency and Fort Ridgely in south central and southwestern Minnesota. Not all Dakota participated in the war and some helped settlers and soldiers. Between four and six hundred white civilians and soldiers were killed during the six weeks of war. It is not known how many Dakota people were killed in battle. Troops under the command of Col. Henry Sibley were sent to support Fort Ridgely and settlers in southwestern Minnesota, ultimately defeating the Dakota forces and ending the war. On Dec. 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Approximately 1,600 non-combatant Dakota and mixed-race people who surrendered after the war, mostly women, children and the elderly, were force-marched to Fort Snelling where they were held in a wooden stockade below the fort. During the winter of 1862-63 as many as 300 Dakota people died of disease in the crowded camp; Dakota women were assaulted by soldiers. The survivors were forcibly removed from the state’s boundaries to reservations in the Dakota Territory and what is now Nebraska. About 280 Dakota men who had been convicted during trials held in Mankato were imprisoned at Davenport, Iowa, where 120 died. The survivors were allowed to rejoin their families in 1866.
Question: 02. What is the significance of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 to the state of Minnesota, the region and to the United States?
By 1862, the treaty and reservation system significantly changed Dakota culture and shrank its land base to a small tract of land along the Minnesota River. The war itself resulted in the deaths of hundreds of settlers, soldiers and Dakota, and depopulated much of southwest Minnesota for more than a year. With the abrogation of the treaties after the war, all Dakota land in Minnesota was opened to settlement. Passage of the Homestead Act of 1862 virtually guaranteed that this newly vacated land would be filled quickly with white settlers. Exiled from the state, the Dakota were left to create new lives on reservations further west in Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota or north in Canada. The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 set the stage for continued warfare with the Lakota in the coming decades, ultimately resulting in Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn and the massacre at Wounded Knee.
Question: 03. What is the history of the Dakota in Minnesota before and after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862?
The Dakota have lived in the area now known as Minnesota for centuries. The Dakota are part of the larger Dakota nation, which includes the Lakota and Nakota and extends westward to Montana.
Up to the establishment of Fort Snelling (completed in 1825), Dakota interaction with Europeans and European-Americans was primarily through the fur trade. The Dakota lived much as they did in the previous centuries, following a seasonal cycle of hunting, fishing and planting.
The original Dakota Reservation in the Minnesota Territory was established by treaty in 1851. The treaty set aside a 10-mile wide strip of land on both sides of the Minnesota River as the permanent home of the Dakota. This reservation life greatly affected traditional Dakota ways. Some Dakota assimilated under government pressure and influence, while others resisted change.
After the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, the United States Congress abrogated or nullified all treaties, and most of the Dakota were exiled to new lands along the Missouri River and in North and South Dakota. Dakota communities were reestablished in Minnesota in their current locations by acts of Congress in 1886.
On these new reservations and in newly-formed communities in Minnesota, the Dakota built new lives under rules established by the United States. Today the Dakota live on and off reservations throughout Minnesota, the Upper Midwest and Canada.
The Dakota who live in Minnesota are comprised of the Lower Bands: the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute; and the Upper Bands: the Sisseton and Wahpeton. The Dakota who now live in eastern North and South Dakota are the Nakota, comprised of the Yankton and Yanktonai. The Lakota tribes west of the Missouri River in Nebraska, Kansas, the Dakotas and Montana include the Hunkpapa, Sihasapas, Itazipchos, Minneconjous, Oglalas, Sichangu and Oohenonpaas.
The four federally recognized Dakota tribal governments in Minnesota are:
For more information about federally recognized tribal organizations in Minnesota, visit www.sos.state.mn.us.
In Canada, the Dakota settled in a number of Reserves: Whitecap Dakota, Wahpeton Dakota, Standing Buffalo Dakota, Carry the Kettle, Wood Mountain, Birdtail Sioux, Sioux Valley Dakota, Canupawakpa Dakota, Dakota Tipi and Dakota Plains Wahpeton. For a complete listing of Dakota reserves and communities, go to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
Question: 04. What should Minnesotans know about the war?
People should understand the complex story behind the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. The causes of the war are rooted in opposing views on land use and ownership and also long-term relationships between the Dakota and the U.S. government, in particular the treaties of 1851 and U.S. policies of assimilation that were enacted during the 1853-1862 reservation period. The tragedy of hundreds of dead on both sides cannot be forgotten, as well as the policies that forced nearly all Dakota to leave their traditional homeland in 1863.
Question: 05. How will this story be shared with the state’s schoolchildren?
The story of the Dakota people is being told by Dakota people through educational programs, speakers, and publications by MNHS and other publishers. The primary Minnesota history textbook for 6th graders is Northern Lights, which is published by MNHS. It includes chapters about the Dakota people and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. The book is undergoing revision, and all Dakota and Ojibwe content is being reviewed and updated with the help of Dakota and Ojibwe elders, historians and educators. The newest version of the book will be aligned with the Minnesota Department of Education Academic Standards in Social Studies. The revised edition will be available for the 2013-2014 school year.
A new computer interactive on treaties will also introduce schoolchildren to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. The interactive will be added to the MNHS website, www.usdakotawar.org, and will also be part of the “Then, Now, Wow” exhibit on Minnesota history opening at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul on November 23, 2012. The interactive will guide users through a series of choices related to treaties, including the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, one of the factors that led up to the war.
A new multimedia computer lesson will teach students in grades 9-12 about the war through the interpretation of primary resources. Classes will be able to access the hour-long lesson at Historic Fort Snelling in fall 2012, or on the fort’s website.
Question: 06. What is the Minnesota Historical Society’s mission in interpreting the history of the war?
MNHS intends to encourage discussion and reflection about the war, its causes and aftermath. We hope the public will take advantage of many new opportunities to learn about the war and ultimately have a greater understanding of this tragic and important chapter in our state’s history. We also hope that the non-Dakota public learn more about the Dakota people, their history, culture, and current life.
Question: 07. How has the Minnesota Historical Society’s interpretation of American Indian history and the inclusion of American Indian perspectives changed through the years?
The Minnesota Historical Society was founded in 1849 and through the years, its interpretation has reflected the temperament of the times. At times, our interpretation has not adequately reflected American Indian perspectives. A change began in the early 1970s when MNHS worked with Ojibwe elders and educators on a major new curriculum about Ojibwe people. In 1987, MNHS created an Indian Advisory Committee (IAC) that includes members of federally recognized tribes in the state. The IAC provides counsel on MNHS’s American Indian-related policies, programs, publications and exhibits.
Today, MNHS continues to evolve as an organization dedicated to preserving the history of our state and all of its people. Dakota and Ojibwe perspectives are shared at many MNHS historic sites and in MNHS publications. This year, we’re recording oral histories from Dakota people throughout Minnesota, the Midwest and Canada to ensure that their truths, experiences and viewpoints relating to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 are part of the permanent historical record. Many descendants of those touched by the war are actively involved in helping staff shape an exhibit, “The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862,” which opens at the Minnesota History Center June 30.
Question: 08. Is the Minnesota Historical Society telling the story of the white settlers who were killed during the Dakota War?
Yes. The history and stories of settlers involved in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 have been and will continue to be included in the history MNHS collects, preserves and shares. Just as we worked with descendants of Dakota involved in the war in sharing their histories, we worked with descendants of white settlers to bring their stories forward as part of this narrative.
Question: 09. What programs will the Minnesota Historical Society offer in 2012? What ongoing programs are offered?
Throughout this year and beyond, MNHS is offering Minnesotans many new ways to learn about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, its causes and aftermath. Please visit www.usdakotawar.org/initiatives for details.
Question: 10. Describe the upcoming exhibit about the war at the Minnesota History Center and the Truth Recovery project.
Beginning June 30, a new exhibit called “The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862” will offer visitors the opportunity to view documents, images and artifacts relating to the war. The exhibit will incorporate multiple points of view on the war, what led up to it and what followed. Visitors will be encouraged to look closely at the primary sources in the exhibit and to draw their own conclusions about what happened and why. Visitors will have opportunities to add their own comments and reactions to the ongoing interpretation of this critical point in Minnesota history.
Exhibit development is one aspect of the “Truth Recovery Project,” a process through which Society staff members are meeting with descendants of those touched by the war, both Dakota and settler descendants. Meeting participants are taking an active role in shaping the exhibit by discussing the significance and interpretation of artifacts and primary sources from the Society’s collections. The “Truth Recovery Project” is inspired by Healing Through Remembering, a group that deals with the legacy of conflict in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Question: 11. What are the Minnesota Historical Society’s policies for acquiring and preserving artifacts?
Since 1849, MNHS has been building a collection of books, newspapers, objects, archaeological artifacts, manuscripts, art, photographs and other treasured materials that illuminate the Minnesota story. These priceless collections provide the tangible presence of the past. They are the irreplaceable record of our state's history. MNHS holds these collections in trust for Minnesota's people, for today, tomorrow and for the years to come. These collections and their care, maintenance, and use are fundamental to the Society's program. As steward of Minnesota's historical collections, MNHS has a premier duty to safeguard the collections as well as to make them available for use by the public.
Consistent with our mission, the MNHS collections focus on Minnesota and its peoples, from ancient times to the present. Items are collected by MNHS for their value in illuminating the past. The Society may consider for acquisition almost any material that has a documented association with the state's history and is in such condition that it can be maintained to ensure its lasting viability. In its collecting activities, MNHS seeks to be inclusive and to reflect the diversity of Minnesotans.
The conservators, working with the curators, collections managers, and the central registrar, are responsible for protecting collections, advising on their use, maintaining proper environments, monitoring materials used in exhibitions, periodically evaluating the condition of collections, and providing reasonable standards and safeguards for items in transit and on exhibition or loan.
Preventive conservation practices and measures are preferred to conservation treatment. The goal of the conservation program is to stabilize and maintain original material through the least intrusive means practicable. Any conservation treatment must respect the historical integrity of the item.
Within the MNHS collections, there are 65 Dakota items that are eligible for repatriation under a federal law called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). NAGPRA requires museums that have received federal funds to return certain categories of objects (sacred objects, unassociated funerary objects, and objects of cultural patrimony) to native tribes or bands. The items, which include peace pipes and funerary clothing, must be returned if claimed by an eligible tribe or band. Because these objects are eligible for repatriation and because they are often culturally sensitive, we do not display photographs of them or use them in exhibits.
MNHS also has in its collection a noose reportedly used to execute a man named Chaska, one of 38 Dakota men hanged in Mankato after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. In a donation letter addressed to MNHS on July 29, 1869, Captain J.K. Arnold states that he stole the noose and hid it so that it wouldn’t be sent to Washington, D.C., with the other nooses used in the hangings. Dakota people have advised MNHS staff, during our conversations about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 exhibit, that the noose is an item of great concern. MNHS wants to be sensitive to those concerns by not displaying the noose, or photographs of it, at this time.
Question: 13. Can the public see sensitive items from the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections?
MNHS collections are always accessible online at www.mnhs.org/collections. Physical access to collections items is generally granted for legitimate research, educational or religious purposes. Requests for access to highly sensitive items are subject to review by the NAGPRA coordinators and members of the MNHS Indian Advisory Committee (IAC), as appropriate.
Requests for access to sensitive items must include a written statement that explains the reason for access, specifies the collection item needed, and describes the intended use.
Request for access to items eligible for repatriation under NAGPRA must be preceded by a letter of intent and identification from the tribal chair. Exceptions to these policies may be made in the case of objects used by members of the affiliated American Indian groups.
Question: 14. Will the Minnesota Historical Society consider releasing sensitive items in its collections?
Any item defined as a NAGPRA item must be returned if claimed by an eligible tribe or band. NAGPRA provides a process for mediation and appeal if American Indian groups disagree with the museum’s interpretation of what constitutes NAGPRA material. MNHS abides by all laws relating to the repatriation of native artifacts. The 65 Dakota items mentioned above, and other American Indian NAGPRA-eligible items will be returned when claimed by an eligible tribe or band.
MNHS collections management policies do not address the return of items outside the NAGPRA framework. However, MNHS recognizes that it must continue the conversation which has began about how to handle sensitive items that do not fit the NAGPRA framework. We are open to ideas and can imagine a variety of solutions; we are exploring ways to responsibly and respectfully manage these sensitive collections items. Members of the senior staff and its Executive Council will review MNHS collection management and NAGPRA policies and work with members of the community to identify effective ways to address the concerns.
Question: 15. Explain the Minnesota Historical Society’s past role in housing American Indian remains in its collections.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was routine for institutions throughout North America to acquire American Indian human remains and hold them in their collections as specimens for scientific study. One of the questions under investigation was whether contemporary American Indian people descended from the earliest inhabitants of the continent, or whether these were unrelated groups of people. MNHS acquired human remains that were recovered from amateur and professional excavations of burial mounds, and sometimes those that had been disturbed during construction projects. All human remains known to have been in our collections have been repatriated.
Question: 16. Does the Minnesota Historical Society still collect or exhibit human remains?
No, MNHS does not collect or exhibit human remains. All known human remains that were in our collections have been repatriated.
It is important to point out that, given the nature of archaeological materials, it is possible that small bone fragments in our collections not currently believed to be human could be identified at a future date as human. If this happens, the fragmentary remains will be repatriated in accordance with state and federal law.
Question: 17. Did the Minnesota Historical Society display the remains of Taoyateduta (Little Crow) at the Minnesota State Capitol?
Prior to 1916, MNHS acquired and displayed human skeletal remains, including the remains of Taoyateduta (Little Crow), a Dakota leader during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Little Crow was killed after the war near Hutchinson, Minn., by a settler who collected the bounty given to any person who killed a Dakota in Minnesota. In 1879, MNHS placed Little Crow’s remains on display at the Minnesota State Capitol. In 1915, MNHS removed the remains from display at the request of Little Crow’s grandson, Jesse Wakeman. In the 1960s, Wakeman requested that the remains be returned to the family for proper burial. The request was granted and in 1971. MNHS’s chief archaeologist transported the remains to a cemetery, where the Wakeman family buried them.
Question: 18. What is the Minnesota Historical Society’s response to those who suggest that Historic Fort Snelling, as a symbol of imperialism, should be destroyed?
The Minnesota Historical Society’s mission is to preserve and share our state’s history, including the troubling and more complex parts of our history. MNHS preserves the fort, a National Historic Landmark, so that we can educate the public about the varied history of the fort through the years, including the western expansion of the United States; the fort’s role in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, the Civil War and World War II; and other themes such as slavery, military history and the fur trade in Minnesota.
Question: 19. Why does the Minnesota Historical Society operate the Alexander Ramsey House and why isn’t his role in the war and the removal of the Dakota from Minnesota discussed in the interpretation of the house?
Ramsey is a prominent figure in Minnesota history. He served as both the first governor of the Minnesota Territory and the second governor of the state. In the office of territorial governor, which he held concurrently with that of superintendent of Indian affairs, Ramsey negotiated treaties on behalf of the U.S. government with the Dakota for the cession of large areas of Minnesota land for white settlement, most notably the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux in 1851. He, like Minnesota’s first state governor Henry Sibley, profited personally from provisions made at the treaty signing for repayment of debts to traders.
In 1859, Ramsey was elected state governor and so was in office during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, many of whose causes were directly related to the treaties and lack of compliance with them by the government and traders. In 1862, Ramsey appointed his long-time friend and political rival Henry Sibley as commander of the forces raised to fight against the Dakota, notoriously stating that “the Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.”
Ramsey was also a founder of MNHS. In the 1960s, his descendants willed his home and all of its contents to the Society. The home is considered one of the best preserved Victorian-era homes in the country and, as a result, interpretation of the home has focused solely on the daily lives of the Ramsey family. However, MNHS recognizes that that interpretation is not complete and staff members are now working to broaden the focus of the Ramsey House to include the founding of Minnesota, the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and its causes, and Ramsey’s role in quelling the war and the removal of Dakota from Minnesota.
Question: 20. Could the policies of the U.S. government and the State of Minnesota government in the 1860s be considered genocide?
The policies of the U.S. and Minnesota governments before, during and after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 are referred to by some as genocide; others do not agree with this usage. The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience uses this definition: “Genocide is any one of a number of acts aimed at the destruction of all or part of certain groups of people (national, ethnic, racial or religious).” The United Nations Convention on Genocide (1948) states, “The convention defines genocide as any act committed with the idea of destroying in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. This includes such acts as: killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to physically destroy the group (the whole group or part of the group) and forcefully transferring children of the group to another group.”
MNHS and other organizations will provide many opportunities over the next year to learn about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, the events that led up to it and its consequences. Programs at MNHS will place those events within a broader context that considers American Indian history in the Upper Midwest, Dakota culture and the westward expansion of white settlement.
We ask that members of the public take advantage of these opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of this time in our past and that you answer the question for yourself – did the policies of the United States government and the State of Minnesota constitute genocide?
Question: 21. Was the internment camp located below the current Historic Fort Snelling really a concentration camp?
Over the winter of 1862-63, after the U.S.-Dakota War, approximately 1,600 Dakota were held in a wooden stockade on the river flats below Fort Snelling. Nearly 300 Dakota people held there died over the winter of 1862-63, victims of illness and attacks by soldiers. The survivors were removed from the state of Minnesota beginning in the spring of 1863 to reservations in the Dakota territory and what is now Nebraska.
This camp is sometimes referred to as a concentration camp. Both internment camp and concentration camp are defined as a place where civilians, prisoners of war and/or political prisoners are confined. The term concentration camp also means “harsh conditions,” as was the case at Fort Snelling. The term concentration camp is most frequently used to specifically describe the guarded, crowded prison camps in Nazi Germany in which millions were exterminated, as well as Nazi death camps, which were designed with the purpose of executing those who were confined. A significant proportion of the Dakota people who were confined below Historic Fort Snelling died over the winter of 1862-63. However, the camp was not designed to hold Dakota for execution.
Would you describe the camp as a concentration camp?
Question: 22. Why does the Minnesota Historical Society use the term “settlers” to describe people moving into the area now known as Minnesota during the mid-1800s?
A settler is a person who settles in a new country or area. MNHS has chosen to use the term “settler” because it is widely used and understood by the public to describe individuals, mostly white people, who moved to Minnesota during the mid-1800s, including immigrants to the United States (people entering the United States from another country), as well as people moving from other states or areas within the U.S.
While white people were settling in the Minnesota area during the 1800s and the land was “new” to them, they were not the first people to move to or live in Minnesota. The land had already been home to American Indians for ages.
Please visit the MNHS calendar, for frequently updated listings of all MNHS programs.
“Northern Lights,” the primary Minnesota history textbook for Minnesota grade school students, is published by MNHS and includes chapters about the Ojibwe and Dakota. The book is now being revised. Chapters about Ojibwe and Dakota history are being reviewed and updated with the help of Dakota and Ojibwe elders, historians and educators.
MNHS offers teacher training workshops with subjects like Ojibwe treaty and land rights and the fur trade and its impact on American Indians and Minnesota history.
MNHS developed the Ojibwe Shoulder Bag Activity Kit and is developing a Dakota Activity, to introduce K-12 students to American Indian culture through hands-on creative activities.
The American Indian Museum Fellowship program, sponsored by MNHS and funded by the Legacy Amendment, is a three-week residential program that introduces American Indian students from across Minnesota to the public history field, other historical and cultural preservation institutions, and various career paths within these organizations.
MNHS supports American Indian history and preservation projects conducted by other organizations through its Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants Program, funded by the Legacy Amendment. Since 2009, dozens of grants have been awarded for projects that preserve and share Dakota and Ojibwe history and culture. Visit legacy.mnhs.org for details.
The Gale Family Library at the Minnesota History Center, holds important American Indian material, including some of the first books published in Ojibwe and Dakota, grammars for those languages and collections of papers from missionaries and their families detailing life and interactions with American Indians.
MNHS Press has published and continues to publish many books by and about Dakota and Ojibwe people.
MNHS provides guides for people researching their Dakota and Ojibwe family history: