Yesterday, November 7, 2012, a small group of individuals from Dakota Nation started walking from the Lower Sioux Agency (2 miles south of Morton, Minn.) to Fort Snelling State Park in a 7-day commemorative march to recreate what Dakota women, elderly and children endured during the Dakota War of 1862. It is the 2012 Dakota Commemorative March.
In the fall of 1862, the United States was in the second year of the American Civil War. It was also the beginnings of the Emancipation Proclamation. President Abraham Lincoln had issued a preliminary proclamation on September 22, 1862. At the same time in Minnesota, failed treaties between Dakota people and the United States Government and failed diplomatic relations between Little Crow and Abraham Lincoln resulted in the killing of hundreds of white settlers, the removal of Dakota, women and children, the imprisonment of 300 Dakota men of which 38 were executed.
In the 1993 PBS film the Dakota Conflict, Anthropologist Jack Weatherford was quoted about the events in 1862. Weatherford said, “I think that the two most tragic chapters in American History have to be the slave trade in the South and holocaust of American Indians in the West and those two chapters came together in a tragic way in 1862.” At the same time Abraham Lincoln was freeing the slaves, he himself decided which of the 300 Dakota men were executed. Weatherford calls the timing and Abraham Lincoln’s involvement with the events, “cruel” and “tragic ironies.”
On November 9, the film Lincoln by Steven Spielberg starts playing in theaters across the country and millions will see it. The 2012 Dakota Commemorative March will go largely unnoticed by the rest of the World. But for the Dakota people, there is nothing insignificant about the march.
The march was the beginning of their exile. In 1862 approximately 1700 Dakota women, children and elders were force marched 150 miles to Fort Snelling walking 20 to 25 miles a day while their men were held in Mankato for trial. Minnesota Governor Ramsey declared that all Sioux were to be “exterminated or forever removed from the borders” of the state.
Recently parishioners at St. Bonaventure Catholic Community, a host to the participants in the 2012 Dakota Commemorative March for one of the overnight stays, watched the documentary film Dakota 38. The parishioners were visibly moved and were overheard saying, “I had no idea.”
The march from the Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling State Park will be a time to remember and heal. The longest distance for the participants is 24 miles and takes place on Friday, November 9. The distance will take eight hours to travel. At special mile markers along the route there will be a ceremony, prayer and gifts to commemorate all that was lost. The distance of the entire route is estimated to be 156 miles.
Dakota women have organized the 2012 Dakota Commemorative March. Stephanie Hope Smith, with blessings from the Dakota women, developed an online event listing on Eventbrite to encourage non-Dakota participation.
The Eventbrite invitation states, “By contrast, during the Dakota Commemorative March of November 7-13 2012, non-Dakota people are invited to join them in prayer, to help provide for the needs of those who are walking, to help ensure that the Dakota story has an opportunity to be heard, and to symbolically provide your support to the Dakota community by being respectfully present.”
The route and scheduled stops are listed on a Google Map. Organizers request that anyone wishing to participate visit and RSVP through the Eventbrite invitation in which instructions are given for preparedness, safety and Dakota cultural norms to follow.
St. Bonaventure Catholic Community will host the participants on the last night before their final march on November 13. The last march will begin at 7:00 a.m. with a prayer at St. Bonaventure Church and end at Fort Snelling.
After the final ceremony at Fort Snelling State Park all 2012 Dakota Commemorative March participants are invited to a closing feast at St. Bonaventure. A shuttle bus is available to bring participants back to the church from Fort Snelling.
To make a donation and help offset the cost of food and transportation during the march, donate at Givemn.com through the St. Paul Interfaith Network (SPIN) and Healing Minnesota Stories (HMS). After clicking “Donate”, donors must type “HMS” in the “Dedicate this gift to…” field.