Birch Coulee: Stories and Reflections




Birch Coulee

Lenor A. Scheffler reading: Tanpa Yukan, or “Place of the White Birch,” is the name given to the shallow valley where Mdewakanton and Wapekute lived on the Coulee for generations.

Narrator: The battle of Birch Coulee was fought on September 2nd and 3rd, 1862. This 36 hour battle was a major victory for the Dakota during the U.S.-Dakota war and resulted in heavy casualties to the local militia. After many transformations, the prairie is now restored to the way it would have looked in September, 1862.

Dakota Spiritual Connection with the Land

Dallas Ross: “Birch Coulee. There’s a lot of spirits there in the form of ghosts if you believe in them.”

Clifford Canku: “Dakota relationship to the land is that she’s our mother. Our descendants have been here thousands and thousands of years. So every valley, every road, every location has a spiritual connection with us yet.”

Dallas Ross: “The land has a memory. Someday someone will be reminded of what happened there. And it probably won’t be good.”

Clifford Canku: “This country is still ours, spiritually, because it is God-given. And when God does something, he doesn't take it back.”

Reflecting back on the Dakota people’s fight for Survival

Waŋbdí Tháŋka, Big Eagle, Mdewankanton Dakota, 1894 (read by Sheldon Wolfchild): “The whites were always trying to make the Indians give up their life and live like white men--go to farming, and do as they did--and the Indians did not know how to do that, and did not want to anyway. The Indians wanted to live as they did before the treaty-- go where they pleased and when they pleased; hunt game wherever they could find it, sell furs to the traders and live as they could.”

Clifford Canku: “Settlers were very much a threat to Dakota way of life. They were moving on to Dakota lands that were encroaching on their livelihood.”

Dallas Ross: “At that point it was starting to settle in that their lives were going to be changed forever and there wasn’t a thing they could do about it.”

Clifford Canku: “What if a foreign country was encroaching onto your land? Would you retaliate, or would you just keep moving and let them take your land? We need to see the minds of the Dakota in saying 'We are warriors'."

Pamela Halverson: “Our ancestors fought for our survival. They had to go to war to fight for survival. If they wouldn’t have fought, we would have all just died. We would have starved to death.”

Sandra Geshick: “We know what happened, we know the things that they went through. They were true warriors. They went and they did what they had to.”

Dallas Ross: “They were fighting knowing that in the end it’s a futile fight. It’s probably one of the saddest places in this local area.”