This Day in History (Feb. 21, 1863): Congress Expels Winnebago Nation from Minnesota, More Than 550 Die During Forced Relocation

Map from Cole Sutton’s blog. Used by permission.

This day in history, Feb. 21, 1863, Congress passed a law — pushed by members of Minnesota’s delegation — to expel the Winnebago people from the state. The Act was fueled by fear, prejudice, and greed; it resulted in land theft and the deaths of more than 550 Winnebago people.

The Winnebago (also called Ho Chunk) were expelled from Minnesota in the wake of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862, a war in which the Winnebago did not participate. Yet Minnesota’s leaders were so eager to free up the Winnebago’s reservation lands for settlers to farm that they expelled the Winnebago before they officially expelled the Dakota.

This is a horrifically ugly chapter in Minnesota history. It includes the little known story of the Knight of the Forest, a secret Klan-like group that formed to expel all indigenous peoples from the state.

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This Day in History (Feb. 8, 1887): Dawes Act Forces Assimilation, Leads to Massive Indian Land Theft

On this day in history, Congress passed the Dawes Act which both forced indigenous peoples to assimilate into a system of private property ownership and effectively stole millions of acres of what should have been treaty-protected lands.

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This Day in History 1955: U.S. Supreme Court Uses Religious Justification to Deny Legitimate Indigenous Property Rights

On this day in history, Feb. 7, 1955, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling based on the Christian Doctrine of Discovery to deny the Tee-Hit-Ton Indians any compensation for the timber the U.S. government allowed to be sold off their lands.

In the ruling Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States, the Court used 15th Century reasoning to exert domination over “an ignorant and dependent race,” treating them not as land owners but as mere tenants. These tenants, the ruling said, are allowed to stay there only “as a matter of grace” by the United States.

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This Day in History: Nelson Act Breaks Treaties, Steals Anishinaabe Land in Minnesota, Forces Assimilation

On this day in history, Jan. 14, 1889, Congress approved “An act for the relief and civilization of the Chippewa Indians in the State of Minnesota.Not surprisingly, that’s a euphemism. The act did not provide relief. Quite the opposite, it violated treaties, forced assimilation, and stole Native lands. Continue reading

This Day in History 1868: Indian Peace Commission Report Issued (Shows Moral Blindness of the Era)

In 1867, Congress created the Indian Peace Commission to make peace with hostile Indian nations on the western plains, secure the safety of frontier settlements, and create a plan to “civilize” the Indians. The Commission was charged with identifying new reservation lands to relocate all hostile Indians east of the Rocky mountains

The Commission issued its first report 150 years ago today and presented it to President Andrew Johnson. While the report acknowledges the government had done great injustices to Native peoples, it’s steeped in the language of Manifest Destiny and white Christian superiority, as well as moral blindness.

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This Day in History: 50th Anniversary of LBJ’s “Forgotten American” Message

It’s pretty easy to go through the archives of U.S. history to find documents with high-sounding rhetoric on issues of racial justice that never reached their goals. This isn’t to say that the speeches, proclamations, and task force reports didn’t make some difference at the time, but current realities show that collectively they haven’t brought into being the promises of economic opportunity and social justice.

Today’s example is President Lyndon Johnson’s: “Special Message to the Congress on the Problems of the American Indian: ‘The Forgotten American.’”  It was issued 50 years ago today, March 6, 2018.

The 4,200-word-plus message talks about the plight of indigenous peoples and promises improvements in housing, education, health care and more. Still, words and phrases in the initial paragraphs of this 50-year-old text are cringe worthy. And the stated goals remind us of how much repair still is left to do. Continue reading

This Day in History: The Dakota Exile, May 4-5

Following the Dakota-U.S. War, Dakota prisoners were held under brutal conditions below Fort Snelling in what amounted to a concentration camp. Many died.

Congress passed a law in early 1863 (still on the books today) banishing the Dakota people from their homeland here in Minnesota. (In a separate bill, it also banished the Winnebago who had nothing to do with the war.) In the spring of 1863, the Dakota were sent by steamship down the Mississippi River, then up the Missouri River to their reservation in exile at Crow Creek, according to William Lass’s article: The REMOVAL From MINNESOTA of the Sioux and Winnebago Indians:. There were 1,318 in all: 176 men, 536 women, and 606 children.

The Steamship Davenport left on May 4, but not before an ugly attack.

At St. Paul, the boat halted briefly to take on cargo. An ugly crowd and apparently goaded to violence by a soldier who had been wounded at the battle of Birch Coulee, commenced throwing rocks at the Indians. Those crowded on the boiler deck could not escape the barrage and several women were injured. The crowd was stilled only after the captain commanding the military escort threatened a bayonet charge. A reporter from the Press labeled the mob action a ‘gross outrage’ because the prisoners on the ‘Davenport’ were peaceful Indians, not war criminals

The last group of Dakota, 547 people, left aboard the steamship ‘Northerner’ on May 5.  At former Governor Sibley’s recommendation, the Dakota were sent by ship instead of a more direct overland route. It was less expensive, avoided clashes with white settlers, and reduced the opportunities for escape.

In case you missed our earlier blog today, check out: Dakota Truth-Telling Gathering at Fort Snelling May 4-6.