The Song of Hiawatha, Minneapolis place names, and the hidden message of Manifest Destiny

Lake Nokomis (Grandmother Lake), Minneapolis (Photo: Wikipedia)

Significant Minneapolis place names come from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha: Hiawatha Avenue, Lake Hiawatha, the Hiawatha Light Rail Line, Lake Nokomis, Minnehaha Avenue, Minnehaha Park, Minnehaha Falls, and Minnehaha Creek.

The poem’s opening lines are fairly well known: “On the shores of Gitche Gumee, Of the shining Big-Sea-Water, Stood Nokomis, the old woman, Pointing with her finger westward … ” The poem is a fictional and tragic love story between Hiawatha, an Ojibwe man, and Minnehaha, a Dakota woman. A popular statue at Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis commemorates the poem.

Less well known is that the Song of Hiawatha is a story of Manifest Destiny — the idea that white Europeans had God on their side and God’s blessing to take Indigenous lands and convert Indigenous peoples. Longfellow’s poem is a deluded fairy tale of how Indigenous peoples would gently give up their traditional customs and become Christians. It papers over the brutal realities of land theft, forced assimilation, broken treaties and genocide that was occurring during Longfellow’s day and have continued thereafter.

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Weekend Reading: Unmasking treaty signers; key treaty rights case goes to U.S. Supreme Court and more

In this blog:

  • Treaty Signers Project website launched (Indian Land Tenure Foundation)
  • Can Congress Void a Tribal Treaty Without Telling Anyone? (The Atlantic)
  • Thousands march in Minneapolis to protest violence against American Indian women (MPR)
  • Can we protect nature by giving it legal rights? (MinnPost)

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Faith leaders asking for more scrutiny of the PolyMet mine proposal in northern Minnesota

Our friends at  Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light are asking faith leaders of all traditions to add their names to a sign-on letter asking for better scrutiny of the PolyMet mine proposal in northern Minnesota.

Specifically, the letter asks Gov. Tim Walz and key agency heads to “accept the Court of Appeals decision that a fair and open contested case process is needed now for the PolyMet sulfide mine.”

Some 200 faith leaders already have signed the letter and it will be delivered to Gov. Walz’s office tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 11 a.m. Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light will continue gathering faith leader signatures in the coming months, so it’s not too late to sign. Continue reading

Dear White People: You have treaty rights, too

Wayne Ducheneaux

Wayne L. Ducheneaux II, executive director of Native Governance Center, recalled being in a room with a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, and the moderator asked: “Would everyone with treaty rights raise your hands.”

“Every Indian’s hand shot up and every non-Indian’s hand stays down,” he recalled.

It’s an icebreaker Ducheneaux now uses to open a discussion about how everyone has treaty rights, non just Indians. “It’s just that those rights are vested differently,” he said.

“For Tribal nations, treaty rights are about securing a homeland and asserting the right to self-determination.” he said. “Non Indian people have treaty rights as well. Their vesting is their ability to occupy space that Tribal nations vacated.”

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