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LaDuke: Reparations in the homeland

"What do you do when an egregious crime has been committed? How do you right a wrong? Minnesota can do that with the Dakota: Make reparations."

Winona LaDuke
Winona LaDuke
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Reparations are the act or process of making amends for a wrong. To repair. The United Nations explains: Adequate, effective, and prompt reparation is intended to promote justice by redressing gross violations of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law. It’s about time.

What do you do when an egregious crime has been committed? How do you right a wrong? Minnesota can do that with the Dakota: Make reparations. These past two weeks, our Anishinaabe family joined to support the Dakota 38 Plus 2 Horse ride. The ride is a healing ride. Minnesota needs to be part of that healing. The Anishinaabe and Dakota heal together.

This was the 160th anniversary of the largest mass hanging in U.S. history. The hanging of the Dakota 38 in Mankato on Dec. 26,1862. Most of the Dakota are still exiles, driven from their lands into what were originally concentration camps, where they struggle to live in some of the poorest communities in the country. It’s time for justice and healing. It’s time for reparations in the form of land.

On Dec. 26, Gov. Tim Walz came to Mankato to acknowledge the wrongdoing of the state of Minnesota to the Dakota. That is the first time the governor has come to Mankato to acknowledge the genocide against the Dakota people, who were not only executed, but were brutally massacred by the hundreds, and then forced into concentration camps which became a model for the Hitler and the Nazis. It was ethnic cleansing, and it was genocidal. I, like many of the other riders, are grateful he came. We expect more of him and the Legislature of Minnesota.

1862 was a horrific year. Between the Dakota 1l862 forced removal and the Navajo Long March of 1862, American generals committed egregious acts against defenseless people, and stole their land, their lives and attempted to destroy their future. There is no morality in celebrating colonialism and genocide. To cope with the crime, Americans have a good case of historical amnesia, and shamefully retain the names of those who committed genocide: Sibley, Sully, Pope, Kit Carson and more, aggrandizing the legacies. America does not really say it’s sorry very well. That’s childish.

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Riding through small towns, kind people fed us, but it seemed that few descendants of the settlers knew the real history. It’s a selective historical amnesia, where it’s more soothing to bury the crime, than to acknowledge and allow for healing. This year, the Dakota 38 rode through downtown New Ulm, the first time they had returned in 160 years. That was healing for us all.

This land is Minisota Makoce, the Land of the Dakota. It is their Holy Land, remembered by their blood, creation stories, songs, and the treaties.

Waziyatawin is a Dakota scholar who talks about reparations in What does Justice Look Like, calling for a Truth Commission, a Take Down the Fort Program, and Land Restoration. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission model began in South Africa, under the leadership of the late Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Telling the story begins the healing of restorative justice based on the truth. Taking Down the Fort refers to the mentality which values the military history, the history of genocide more than the history of the land and the people who live here. There is no honor in the history of Ft. Snelling. There were no just wars fought from that fort.

And then there’s land. The only compensation for land is land, and the Dakota have less than 3200 acres in Minnesota, compared to the millions of acres of their ancestors. Remember, in 1862, you could ride on the Missouri River Valley and see buffalo for three days – the herds were so big, the maple stands so abundant, fish, deer, elk, and you could drink the water from every lake and stream. That’s in stark contrast to the wasteland, settler colonialism is creating today, where half the lakes are “dead” from industrial agriculture run off, pesticides and forever chemicals destroy life and give us cancers in escalating levels. This land and people deserve a healing, and it will be good for everyone. Mark my words.

Reparations should begin in Minnesota. Public land holdings in the region could be returned to the Dakota, along with budgets to maintain roads, and ecosystems. Land seizures from the Dakota financed “land grant” colleges nationally. Two million acres of Dakota land were seized under the 1862 Morrill Act, coinciding with the Dakota Uprising, and the genocide against the Dakota. That land provided the foundation for many universities, not just Minnesota colleges, but ultimately was a complete theft and violation of the treaties. The universities now offer free tuition to tribal members, but that does not erase the shame of their foundation.

This year, Minisota has a budget surplus, and some of that could purchase land for the exile communities – including for nonprofits, and for community members themselves. It’s time for the people to come home.

Riding horse with the Dakota families, I observed that most of the riders were under 20, young men and women defying odds. The ride is a ceremony unto itself, a test of will, intelligence, heart, and a coming of age. The Dakota youth, like their elders, look forward to the return home. We owe it to future generations to begin a healing.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA
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