ST PETER — As a self-described fifth-generation “survivor of genocide,” Chris Mato Nunpa says most of the “reconciliation” he’s seen between whites and Dakota Indians has been a superficial, feel-good exercise.
“We eat together, everyone is nice. We put on our feathers and dance for you, entertain. The white man feels good,” Nunpa said.
“There’s more to do than that. There are things that need to be done.”
There first, he says, has to be an acknowledgment of sins — the taking of land, bounties put on Dakota scalps in the 1860s, “concentration camps” at Fort Snelling and elsewhere, and the attempt to kill and banish Indians from Minnesota. Then, a returning of lands and payments for violated treaties.
Nunpa, from the Upper Sioux Agency near Granite Falls and an author and faculty member at Southwest State University, led a roundtable discussion at Gustavus Adolphus College Sunday.
He and Dakota elder Sydney Byrd recounted the mistreatment of the Dakota in Minnesota history and ongoing challenges.
“The Dakota have a terrible time taking our rightful place in this great nation,” said Byrd, who opened the somber roundtable discussion in a disarming manner: “I’m now 94 years old. I’m looking for a wealthy widow.”
He said the Dakota are the last to become citizens in their own land and noted Indians are the only ethnic group that have a federal bureau, the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “The BIA was created ostensibly to help us, but really to control us.”
He said the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, which resulted in the mass hanging of 38 Dakota in Mankato, has been viewed as an illegal action. “Even if we rise up to defend ourselves and our land, it was called an uprising. It depends on who is writing the history,” said Byrd, whose great-grandfather was one of the Dakota condemned to death but whose sentence was commuted by Lincoln.
Nunpa talked of his youth, of being “saved” by a variety of Christian missionaries. “In the 1940s I was saved three summers in a row ... Sprinkled, sprayed and dunked,” he said of the various baptisms.
In the 1970s, he said, he began to “de-colonize my mind” and return to ancient Dakota practices and beliefs.
Saying there needs to be “truth telling,” Nunpa said whites should recognize that their Minnesota ancestors acted in ways similar to Hitler, even being a model for Hitler.
He noted the $200 bounties put on the scalps of Dakota following the war and the holding of non-combatant Dakota in camps at Fort Snelling without charges.
“What kind of people do that?”
Nunpa said Hitler said to his inner circle several times that he admired the efficiency of the U.S. genocide against native Americans.
“The U.S. set the example for the worst butchers of the 20th century. Minnesota helped teach the world how to deal with people you don’t like,” Nunpa said.