According to Austin, some of his neighbors asked him: “What exactly have the Dakota Indians done that is a positive contribution to all Minnesotans? What is the heroism or accomplishment that we are recognizing in order to justify renaming the lake to Bde Maka Ska?”
What a painful question. The Dakota people faced genocide here. The U.S. government broke treaties, left Dakota people starving and provoked the war of 1862. The United States, at Minnesota’s urging, exiled the Dakota from their homeland. Alexander Ramsey put bounties on Dakota scalps, resulting in the indiscriminate deaths of Dakota and other Native Americans. It’s a horrific history.
In subsequent years, through boarding schools and other U.S. assimilation policies, we tried to destroy the Dakota and other native languages, cultures and religions. As a nation, we still struggle with everything from removing offensive Indian mascots to being honest about our history.
It is ludicrous to ask what heroic acts the Dakota have done. It is heroic that the Dakota and other Native people have survived at all. Yet here they are, trying to preserve their traditions, standing up for water and environmental protection, and looking out for seven generations into the future.
Scott Russell, Minneapolis