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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Saturday May 18th 2024

Elders met where Rivers meet Genesis and Genocide are Whitewashed

Have you ever wondered why Hiawatha and Minnehaha Avenues run counter to the north/south grid system of most streets?

It”'s because those roadways were originally entrenched trails between major water sources–the falls of rivers and creeks— made by the indigenous people and animals long before the imposition of a European geometric grid street system.

The same is true of Hennepin Avenue from river falls to the lakes southwest.  This part of our history is “marked” indelibly in the landscape.  Other parts of our history are written.  And there are parts of our history that are passed on from person to person, decade to decade as oral tradition.  Some oral history is remembered within rhythm having been made into song with music.  Here are excerpts from an article in the StarTribune by Nick Coleman, June 6 column, “Fort Snelling: State”'s cradle — and stain” suggested that the Minnesota Historical Society has neglected to tell the difficult story of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 at Historic Fort Snelling. The following excerpts are from that article.  Read the full text at or Coleman”'s article and related text at or

”˜History matters,”' indeed. And true history is sometimes hard.

“Fort Snelling sits above the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers and at the confluence of a troubled history.”

“”¦it”'s time for a debate about the true and troubling significance of the fort.  It”'s a fight worth having.”

“This is both the place of our genesis and our genocide,” says Jim Anderson, historian and cultural chair of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community.” This is a place where there should be a holocaust museum for the Dakota.”

“”¦ state founders hatched schemes to swindle the Dakota and consign them to reservations where hunger and corruption ruled. Here, the last hangings of Dakota leaders took place. Here, in haunted woods along the Minnesota, 2,000 bedraggled Dakota prisoners, mostly women and children, were kept in a “squaw camp,” forced to endure squalid conditions. Many died”

“In this bloody cradle, Minnesota was born. And we”'ve been trying to ignore it ever since.”

“We”'d rather have the kids watch a cannon blow smoke than discuss the sentiments that led Jane Grey Swisshelm, a frontier Minnesota leader, to urge that the Dakota — men, women and children — be driven in front of a cannon”'s mouth and blown to bits.”

“The Minnesota Historical Society, which uses the motto ”˜history matters,”' has been struggling for years to dig deeper into the state”'s flawed beginnings.”

“ ”˜Is history entertainment, or can it deal with the hard stuff,”' asks St. Paul historian Bruce White, an expert on Indian treaties and a critic of the dumbing-down of history. People died at Fort Snelling [probably a couple hundred in the ”˜squaw camp”' alone, he notes]. There really isn”'t a benign story to Fort Snelling. The historical society is afraid of controversy.”

“State Rep. Dean Urdahl sponsored a 2009 law calling on Congress to repeal the federal order that exiled the Dakota from their homeland. Although Congress has not acted on the request, Urdahl says it would help our understanding of our history.”

“ ”˜The wounds are still wide-open,”' Urdahl says, ”˜but we don”'t know where they”'re from.”' “

“As I said at the beginning, this is a fort worth fighting for.”

Nick Coleman is a senior fellow at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at the College of St. Benedict/St. John”'s University. He can be reached via email.

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