MANKATO — At the 150th anniversary of the Dakota Conflict, there’s been no shortage of media accounts reliving the battles, the deaths and, of course, the infamous hanging of 38 Dakota in Mankato.
But while it may be important to learn about the past and understand the importance of the events of 1862, there may be one thing that’s more important: reconciliation.
That was the focus of a panel discussion Sunday morning at the site of the annual Mahkato Wacipi, the powwow event that is in its 40th year.
The panel discussion, moderated by KTOE radio personality Pete Steiner, was held outdoors at the same park, Land of Memories, where the sacred powwow event is held.
“Even though it’s been 150 years, there are still wounds that are open,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl, who represents Minnesota House District 18B. “That’s what makes reconciliation so important.”
Urdahl and others spoke for about an hour about the need to both come to terms with what has happened, and about the need to move on.
Dave Larsen, who used to work at Minnesota State University, said it’s best to think of reconciliation as not a destination, but a journey.
He said he remembers a time when having darker skin in the Midwest meant something a lot more negative than it does today. During those times, he recalls getting angry at people. But it was a Catholic priest who reminded him once of a very important part of forgiveness.
“He said forgiveness means letting go of the past,” Larsen said.
At the same time, it’s important to learn the history of how we got here.
James Weston, a Dakota, said the 150th anniversary we’re all commemorating was a war. But why did it start?
“We’d had enough,” he said of the Dakota people.
Historians agree. The treatment the Dakota people endured from the European settlers and the U.S. government was harsh. Treaties were ignored, promised food shipments were delayed. The Dakota were starving in 1862, trying to find food on over-hunted land. They reached their breaking point, and famously snapped at Acton Township in Meeker County.
“The history needs to be heard,” Weston said. “Historic hurt. Historic trauma. Historic guilt. Historic shame. It’s on all sides.”
Another member of the Dakota followed Weston. Two Arrows — who is the keeper of the Eagle Staff that bears 38 feathers for Dakota hanged in Mankato, and two more for a pair of Dakota kidnapped and killed later — said it’s important to remember the 38 who died because they stood up for what was right.
But he said the way to reconciliation has to include listening.
“Part of reconciliation is bringing the truth out, understanding, shaking hands with everybody,” he said. “We’re all the same. We all bleed red. We all come from the Creator.”
He said he’s part of a group that rides from South Dakota to the Mahkato Wacipi every year called the Dakota 38 Riders. In the early days of the ride, he said, people in some of the small towns along the way weren’t that friendly to them. It’s changing.
“Now we’ve got people who are opening their homes to us, feeding us,” he said. “And every year, more and more of that happens. It’s beautiful. That’s the only word I have to describe it.
“Some of the things that happened on both sides were unspeakable,” he said. “But those are the things we need to talk about.”