If everything was taken away from me, I probably would have done the same thing

Mr. Sveine reflects on the U.S.-Dakota War.

Things to think about: 

Are there current events similar to the U.S.-Dakota War?

Audio Chapters

DL: Debates over the cause of the war and the aftermath continue, and one that we heard second-hand was this: If what occurred at Milford was genocide, in that the Dakota just came through and said: we’re going to kill everybody- if that was genocide, and the American Indians claim genocide was wrought upon them; well, here was an example of them using those same tactics on non-Indians. The argument could be made from the Dakota perspective: Look, they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. We don’t care if they were German and ignorant. We didn’t care that they had papers or they didn’t have papers, or that they had bought something, or they hadn’t bought something. That was irrelevant to us. What was relevant to us was the fact that our lives were taken from us once the land was gone. Therefore, it was a justifiable war. What is your thought on that argument?

TS: Well, as a student of history, I’m sure my views are probably different than somebody off the street that hadn’t put any thought or effort into this. I am not surprised by it. I think that the Indians were, to their mind, justified: “This is our last chance.” The repercussions from the Acton incident, coupled with them knowing the Civil War was going on, being forced to live in a way that is just horrible. I mean, if any white person was forced to live the way the Indians were, they would uprise too. How can that not be? So human nature is the same here. I think the Indians simply took advantage of the single little window of opportunity they saw, and hoped to make the best of it.

Just last year my wife and I went to Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia. We were in a place called Mostar, Bosnia. A famous old bridge is there; fights take place essentially between ethnicities as well as Muslim and Christian. And on one of the most historic sites in that town, it’s just a little rock put in a corner: “Remember 1993” referring to when that town was attacked. So human nature is telling me, almost literally halfway around the world, the same thing: we can’t forget about things, but stuff happens. It’s always going to happen. I hate to say that; it sounds very cynical. I like to think I’m a pretty optimistic, upbeat person, but I don’t blame the Indians. They were pushed in a corner and when they uprose, they became a bad guys. If everything was taken away from me, I probably would have done the same thing.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Terry Sveine Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. If everything was taken away from me, I probably would have done the same thing May 29, 2024. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/1120

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