At the root of everything, factionalism was created when immigrants came to our way of living

Dr. Canku talks about the immigration of settlers onto Dakota land and how it created factionalism and other negative consequences for Dakota people.

Things to think about: 

What is the difference between immigrants to the United States from the mid-1800s and immigrants today?

Audio Chapters

At the root of everything, factionalism was created when immigrants came to our way of living. And I think this factionalism was destructive to our people. And so, what you mentioned in terms of all these factions, is not the Dakota way of life. One ingredient that's still present today is that every Dakota person living at that period of time, I believe, knew that it [going to war] was futile. Every Dakota person knew that it was futile.

But at the same time they also were promised a lot through treaties. That if you—well, to kind of back up – back in 1830 there was a U.S. policy initiated by Andrew Jackson. It's called the Indian Removal Act of 1830. And the purpose of that was against the Cherokees because they were sitting on Georgia land that had gold. And so they were forcibly moved to Oklahoma. So I think the impetus for this conflict had to do with the same kind of Indian Removal Act of 1830. Before the treaties or anything happened, Indian removal was happening to our Dakota people. They were put into holding places – called Indian communities or reservations. So that impetus of taking away the land, the abundance of resources and so on was the main goal. What I know through study and what I teach today is that the United States was built on this conflict of democracy and capitalism. Democracy is good, but it's counterproductive to capitalism. So I think that in a sense, capitalism in a sense is a very frenzied activity, and I think that Indian removal was very negative to Native American people. It was a frenzied economic venture that cheated and underhandedly dealt with Native American people. That was the impetus of why they resisted. But what would you do if you were promised thousands and thousands of dollars? If you moved to a smaller portion of land and the United States said: “We'll feed you, we'll give you implements so you can be farmers, we'll do this, we'll do that.” But when you did move onto those small pockets of land, you were starving. Your children were starving. Your women and your grandmothers and grandfathers were starving. What were they to do?

So I think that in a sense, in this instance of Little Crow, that they were pushed into a corner where they were either going to starve or resist.

And so I think if I lived in those times, and my family was pushed to starvation, and regardless of what number – overwhelming number of a standing army – I would fight. I would fight today even though I knew it would be futile. Because you're going to die anyway. You're going to starve. So, do you want to die honorably or you want to die being defensive, and just get old and die?
So, as a warrior today I would, even today, for example, if a foreign nation came and tried to do what they did to Dakota people – if the Chinese came and tried to do with Americans today, I would fight the Chinese even though it would be futile.

I'm sure Dakota people were smart enough to realize that the United States government was not telling the whole truth to these German immigrants and saying, "There's free land out there! And you can come.” There were policies that said – I forgot what policy it was – that said if you took the land and worked on it for five years, and plowed the ground and improved it, then you could have that land for yourself to farm and own. [A later addition to the interview: Mr. Canku said that the policy was called the Homestead Act of 1884. It stipulated to immigrants that if they became farmers and improved the land for four or five years, the federal government would give the farmers title to the land that was initially occupied by Native tribes,]

But at the same time, not telling them that this was Dakota land? The [settlers] were encroaching. They were very much a threat to Dakota way of life. They were moving on to Dakota lands that were encroaching on Dakota livelihood. So I would say that, if you have land today, what if a foreign country was encroaching onto your land? And they were doing that? Would you retaliate, or would you just keep moving and let them take your land? Or take your cars, or home or whatever?

So I think that we need to understand the minds of Dakota in saying "We are warriors." And regardless of what happened to the Germans, they were encroaching on our livelihood ¬– our way of life, our lands. So at that time, we were saying these people were not good neighbors. They didn't share, or they didn't want to get along with Dakota people. And the Dakota called them "Bad Speakers." Because they were also producing alcohol, and it was destructive to Dakota way of life. So these people were looked at as threats. And so what if you experienced a threatening group of people coming on to your land and taking that space and not being friendly--whatever nationality that would be. I really think that they [the Dakota who fought the war] really didn't evaluate what nationality they were. They were just thinking: these people are a threat. So if I lived back in those times, I would say, it was an experience of war. And if I killed somebody, I killed out of a fair war.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Dr. Clifford Canku Interviewer Deborah Locke made at Minnesota History Center, St. Paul, MN | Friday, June 10, 2011

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