On November 7, 1862, a four-mile train of mostly women and children was forced to march to the concentration camps at Fort Snelling. Many of our people died on this trip. The townspeople from Henderson, New Ulm, and Sleepy Eye threw bricks as they passed by, they threw stones, one woman even threw boiling water.
Some people ask why we need to remember this, why we can’t just let it go. The march has never been acknowledged for the tragic event that it was. It’s been covered up and forgotten. It’s time for the Dakota people to remember their ancestors, to grieve for their families who were part of this march. This used to be Dakota land. It was all taken away from us. When you allow these things to be covered up, that’s part of colonization.p. 186, Wilson quoting Chris Mato Nunpa, professor of Indigenous Nations and Dakota Studies at Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall, MN
Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.
We live just a few miles from Fort Snelling in St Paul, and I had no idea until a few years ago about this horrific forced march and how so many native peoples had been imprisoned there. Our congregation participated in a Sacred Sites tour and visited not only this area, but other nearby places sacred to the Dakota people. It was a sobering day, to say the least.
Spirit Car, Journey to a Dakota Past by Diane Wilson, who wrote one of my favorite novels of 2021, The Seed Keepers, is the record of Wilson’s journey to discover her own history and the story of her ancestors. It is a complicated story, although the writing is clear and beautiful. The story is complicated because so much has been hidden and distorted, and repressed. Wilson’s father was Swedish-American and her mother of Dakota heritage. Her mother and sisters had been sent to a boarding school on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and were rarely able to return home. Imagine the trauma involved in that? Wilson’s great-great grandmother, Rosalie Marpiya Mase or Iron Cloud, was married to a French fur trader, and Wilson explores how mixed marriages were part of the strategy to take over native culture and lands.
In December, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato, MN, in view of an estimated 4,000 spectators. Just imagine. Here’s where I am in the ongoing process of learning what I don’t know. When I was in the sixth grade, I lived in Mankato. At that time the social studies focus during the sixth grade was Minnesota history. Did we learn about the hanging? Did we learn about the forced march or why that happened? Did we learn anything about the land our school was built on? Nothing. Not one thing.
This book is part of my ongoing education, and I hope it will be part of yours.
Eventually, ambitious dairy farmers chopped down the forests, sold the timber to build houses for settlers, and paved the old trails. But was the past so very far away? Beneath the pavement, there remained the imprint of moccasins and the tracks of wagon wheels. They never really disappear, they simply became invisible to our eyes.p. 203
Are you reading anything to fill in the blanks of your own education? I would love to know.
3 thoughts on “Book Report: Spirit Car, Journey to a Dakota Past by Diane Wilson (2006)”
Rebecca Taibl here. I just subscribed to your Blog, but do check whether I have already subscribed.
Both Glenn and I would also enjoy connecting with both of you for more conversation. We enjoyed our brief time at the Gloria Dei Forum.
I’ll be in touch soon and we’ll continue the conversation.
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