MN “Concentration Camp” Survivors’ Relatives Remember 150 Years Later

This year marks the 150th Anniversary of the War of 1862. Some call it the Sioux Uprising or the US-Dakota War. Hundreds of Dakota men and women as well as white settlers in Minnesota lost their lives during a short-lived war that resulted in the exile of many Dakota.

To this day, the war remains a wound that has yet to heal. After the battles were fought, many Dakota, mostly women and children, were marched from the Lower Sioux Reservation, near present-day Morton, Minnesota, to Fort Snelling in bitter cold temperatures. They spent the winter at an interment camp. Many did not survive.

Descendants of those who were marched to Fort Snelling mark this time through a special ceremony at the exact spot. Mendota Dakota Tribal Chair Jim Anderson allowed our cameras to be there because, as he says, “Ignorance is racism. We need to educate others about what happened to our people.”

Tales of atrocities, death and hopes for peace

A memorial plaque at Fort Snelling says at least 130 of the Dakota died during the cold winter months of captivity.

In May 1863, the survivors from the camp were crowded aboard steamboats and taken to Crow Creek in southeastern South Dakota. Those who survived Crow Creek were moved again three years later to the Niobrara River in Nebraska, a location that became the Santee Reservation.

Interview with Mendota Dakota Tribal Chair Jim Anderson:

“So today we gather to honor those that were gathered up after this conflict. It didn’t last too long, a lot of people died on both sides. But the women and children were marched from Morton, Minnesota all the ways up to these little towns and a lot of them died on the way here.

My uncle, my uncle Bob who is now in the spirit world. He said we should go down and honor the relatives that were put down here that died that cold winter of 1862. That were put in a concentration camp right were you see these trees.

A lot of them had to bury their people right in the teepees that they were living in, their babies and stuff.

So it was a very, very hard winter for our relatives down here and that’s why we try to come down here in a good way, to remember their spirit and remember those that were exiled.

“The ceremony today was to honor our relatives that were put in a stockade here. It was the first concentration camp in the United States. They put our people in before they were barged out of the state of Minnesota after the conflict of 1862, which happened 150 years ago. So we’re celebrating, I don’t know if you want to say celebrating, but we’re honoring here today but they’re … this is the 150th anniversary of that so there’s going to be a lot of things happening through the year to honor their memory.”

Allison Herrera: “So can you tell me about how they got here?”

Anderson: “Well it was after 1862 and most of the women and children and elders were gathered up down in Morton, Minnesota and then they were marched by the army all the way here. And during that march a lot of our relatives died. They were killed by settlers that when they went through the small towns, babies were taken out of mothers arms and killed and women for going out and having to urinate were shot or bayoneted. It was a sad time in our history. But we’re trying to get over those kind of things. We’re trying to bury that in the water and continue on with our struggles of reconnecting with our culture and our language and our ceremonies.

Yeah where these trees are now that you see today is where the concentration camp was. You can go inside this building and see pictures of it. There’s actually a picture right up by this memorial here. This memorial is to honor and remember those that were here.”

Herrera: “And when you do this ceremony you think of them, you remember them?”

Anderson:“Yeah, when I fill the pipe I remember those relatives and I pray for their relatives that are still alive and the families that they can have a better life.”

Herrera: “And then when you pass the, you pass the pipe you ask other people to do that as well?”

Anderson: “Yeah, I gave everybody some tobacco to pray with. They put in the fire after and the prayers that I put in the pipe, we believe when you smoke the pipe, that smoke goes to all creation. It goes all over the world when it leaves here. So those prayers go up to the creator and everywhere around the world.”

Herrera: “And then I see the flags and the sticks that are over there. Those are also to remember people as well?”

Anderson: “Yeah those sticks are actually, when they do the march, every mile they walk they put a stick in the ground. And those sticks that they didn’t use they bring here at the end and they put up here in circle. So we’ll be burning some of those this year for the march.”

Herrera:”Thank you so much for letting us in and film.”

Anderson: “Well It’s my honor and like I said, you probably already have it on film that I’m not afraid to put these ceremonies out there. People need to know because ignorance is racism . And if people don’t know then they think it’s a bad thing. So I wanted people to know that what we do is a good thing and that’s all we’ve ever done.

One of the biggest problems our people had is that they wanted to share everything. And when they did, they didn’t know that other people had different intents and that’s why we’ve had problems for so long, is that it was all about sharing, you know. And we’re paying for that yet today. But we’re going to continue anyway.”

Allison Herrera

Allison Herrera, originally from San Luis Obispo, Calif.,  studied media and Spanish at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., where she earned her bachelor s. Since moving to the Twin Cities, she has been a news producer for KFAI Fresh Air Community Radio, communications coordinator for Twin Cities Public Television's arts series MN Original, and producer for the Association of Minnesota Public and Educational Radios Stations for the series MN90: Minnesota History in 90 Seconds.

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