Students at the University of Minnesota are backing a revived call for a state apology for past treatment of Native Americans.
In March 2010, Minnesota Representative Dean Urdahl introduced “a house concurrent resolution expressing regret for conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers.”¯ It attracted three supporters but then went nowhere.
The students produced a film, which you can watch below, examining the Dakota Conflict of 1862, the treaty violations preceding it, and the cultural genocide and stolen land that followed.
The students point out in their film that an apology is just the beginning.
“The fight for indigenous rights fits into a larger struggle for social justice. Social justice is the upholding of the natural law that all persons irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, possessions, race, religion, etc. are to be treated with equity and without prejudice,” they say in the video.
“The path to justice for American Indians in Minnesota starts with recognizing the implications that these historical events have on relations between Native and non-Native communities. Things like the Dakota War and the dispossession of White Earth are part of a colonialist system that damages Native sovereignty and identity.”
The concept of apologizing to indigenous peoples as a part of reconciliation has been taken up in Australia, where in 2008, then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, moved a motion of Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples, which was unanimously supported in Australia’s Parliament. Also in 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a long-anticipated apology to tens of thousands of indigenous people who as children were ripped from their families and sent to boarding schools, where many were abused as part of official government policy to “kill the Indian in the child.”
Both occasions were seen as historic turning points and watched by large numbers of people live on television.
Both the Australian and Canadian apologies were tied to compensation and other financial commitments. Australia made a commitment to close the massive gap in health and there was a $2 billion compensation package for Canadian aboriginal peoples who were forced to attend residential schools. Canada also established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the consequences of these institutions.
In 2010, an ‘apology to Native Peoples of the United States’¯ was included in the Senate defense appropriations bill. The statement says that the U.S. government is committed “to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together.”¯ However, it also says that it isn’t intended to support any lawsuit against the government (of which there are many) and received far less attention than the Canadian or Australian apologies: there was no public statement by the President or even White House press release.
“Is an apology that’s not said out loud really an apology? What if the person expressing the apology doesn’t draw attention to it?”
“Those are questions that some tribal citizens are asking upon learning that President Barack Obama signed off on the Native American Apology Resolution.”
Paul Udstrand writes about the students’ call:
“We’re talking about our history, and who we are. History defines us and points us in certain directions. A history that suppresses the Dakota conflict and the conquest of Indians creates a very different history than one that acknowledges those events. Such a history also points us towards a different future. Indians have not disappeared from the landscape, they are real people, fellow human beings, and fellow Minnesotans. We do not live in a museum. An apology acknowledges our history, and points us towards a future where we treat each other with dignity and respect.”
Said MinnPost of the students’ efforts:
“Mighty oaks from little acorns grow … maybe it will spark some kind of official, mighty-oak apology from the state of Minnesota.”
The first part gives an overview of Dakota and Ojibwe history in the state, a timeline of events and touches on treaties, boarding schools, the Dakota War of 1862, important Indian legislation, and Indians in Minnesota today, including Anton Treuer.
Page 2: Watch the rest of the series, showing Dakota ways of life, their history and what can be done to help >>
The beginning of part two focuses on the Dakota, their ways of life and delves deeper into the atrocities of the Dakota War. Towards the end of part two, Ojibwe lifeways are touched on, including traditional foods and how birch bark was integral to daily life.
Part three focuses on the allotment of land and blood quantum by discussing what happened to the White Earth Reservation, which was created in 1867, when the Nelson Act was passed in 1889. Boarding schools are also discussed more in depth in this segment.
“One of the first Native traditions to come under assault at the boarding schools was the names of the Indian students,”¯ one of the students says in the video. “Symbolically, the casting off of the Indian name and the assumption of a Christian name was the first sign that civility had indeed touched the savage.”
Part four starts the discussion about economic revitalization through American Indian gaming, how it has helped not just Natives and the pros and cons of the industry. Toward the end, see how much a random sampling of people around the university know about Native Americans.
The final installment of the documentary discusses working toward justice and how an apology will begin the healing process.
Photo credit: Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, Minn. July 23,1851 [Sioux]. From painting by Frank Barnell Mayer.