The shifting politics of memorialisation: Deborah Edwards-Anderson, ‘From Reconciliation to Resurgence Dakota Commemorations of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862’, Middle West Review, 2, 2, 2016, pp. 85-114


Excerpt: Our proximity to the sesquicentennial of the U.S.-Dakota War provides an opportunity to examine how this conflict is remembered by the descendants of those most impacted by it—the Dakota Oyate, the confederation of large extended family groupings that claimed Minnesota as traditional territory and homeland for thousands of years. Dr. Kim TallBear (Dakota), whose anthropological research examines genetic science’s intersection with notions of race and indigeneity, wrote in 2012, “As Dakota people, 1862 may be our most important origin story today. We refer daily to 1862 whether at family gatherings, at community events, anywhere we gather and talk. It is always there even when we are silent.”1

Although Dakota communities include sharply divergent perspectives about the effectiveness of the 1862 war, there is a shared conviction that the U.S. government treated their ancestors unjustly by expelling all Dakota from Minnesota in 1863, breaking treaties made with Dakota nations, effectively seizing Dakota reservation land to make it available to American settlers, and placing bounties on the heads of Dakota people found within Minnesota’s boundaries after the war. TallBear describes 1862 as a defining moment that “re-circumscribed present-day Dakota geography, political economy, family relations, governance, and identity. This marked a bloody re-mapping of Dakota life.”2

This essay holds that in the past half-century, commemorations of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 within Dakota communities have been increasingly grounded in, and fueled by, efforts to revitalize the Dakota language, traditional culture, and connection to traditional territory.

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