Predictable Push Back: D.J Tice’s Stale Arguments Against Reinterpreting Fort Snelling

Historic Fort Snelling

Star Tribune columnist D.J. Tice offered predictable and flawed push back against needed truth telling at Fort Snelling.

Tice’s opinion piece — Fort Snelling: New Vision, Old Wounds — focuses on plans to renovate and reinterpret the Fort, plans which would give a prominent place to acts of injustice and cruelty that were part of Minnesota’s founding and whose legacy continues today. Plans would bring forward stories about the brutal concentration camp below the Fort that held Dakota women and children following the Dakota War of 1862, a camp where hundreds died. It would talk about the Dred Scott case and the fact that Scott was held at Fort Snelling.

This new narrative would challenge the political correctness of a prior age.

Tice uses several common arguments to push back against such truth telling.

  1. The Plan is Too Critical of the Past: Tice mixes the Fort Snelling debate in with recent efforts to remove Confederate statues in the south and to restore the name Bde Maka Ska to Lake Calhoun. He wraps them under the broad heading of the “new censorious spirit” of our age. (Censorious, according to Merriam Webster, mean hypercritical, fault finding, or carping. It’s basically a put down for those seeking change.)
  2. The Plan Needs More Historical “Balance”: Tice seems to argue that it’s okay to add some stories of past injustices, but apparently we shouldn’t overdo it. History needs to be balanced.
  3. The Plan Victimizes Veterans: Tice cites retired National Guard Gen. Richard C. Nash, raising concerns that the fort’s military history will be pushed aside and replaced with more painful stories.  This “zero-sum” thinking raises the fear that adding to the historical narrative unfairly diminishes the Fort and veterans’ stories.

Tice’s closing paragraphs argues for a blame-free and “balanced” historical narrative:

One might wish for an approach to history in which the very purpose is to try — not so much to condemn or to justify — but to understand the passions and motives of all peoples of the past. Yet maybe a truly balanced view of history has always been too much to expect.

It is, though, what Minnesota should strive for.

Tice’s narrative doesn’t go for balance. He prefers emotionally charged words, such as “censorious,” “score-settling,” “reproachful,” and “villainous whites and victimized minorities.” Continue reading

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Opportunities to Learn about Historical Reinterpretation Underway at Fort Snelling

The Minnesota Historical Society is in the middle of plans to redevelop and  revitalize Historic Fort Snelling, including new historical interpretation.

If you are interested in leaning more, particularly about how the history of the Dakota people will be told, attend one of the Historical Society’s upcoming open houses. They are free events and light refreshments will be served:

  • Thursday, Jan. 18, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the Richfield American Legion, 6501 Portland Ave. S., Richfield
  • Thursday, Jan. 25, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, 1530 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
  • Monday, Jan. 29 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at Historic Fort Snelling, 200 Tower Ave., St. Paul

Oȟéyawahe/Pilot Knob Gets National Historic Designation

View from Oȟéyawahe/Pilot Knob today. No wonder it was targeted for development. (Photo: National Park Service)

Good news: Oȟéyawahe, or Pilot Knob Hill, a sacred Dakota burial site, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 14 by the National Park Service.

The site is in Mendota Heights on the east bank of the Mississippi River across from Fort Snelling. To white settlers, it was called Pilot Knob, an important landmark for riverboat navigation. The Dakota name for it means “The hill that is much visited.” It was “a burial place, and an important Medicine or Wakan Ceremony grounds,” according to the historic designation application filed by the Pilot Knob Preservation Association.

[Update: The hill has a magnificent view of Fort Snelling and both downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. It is a great place to watch a sunset. In 2002, developers announced plans to build “The Bluffs,” high density housing on the hill. The late Bob Brown, then head of the Mendota Mdewakonton Dakota Community, first began alerting people to the threat. He reached out to the veterans of the Coldwater Spring protests to work in defense of the hill. Opposition eventually coalesced in the formation of the Pilot Knob Preservation Association.]

In 2003, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota called Pilot Knob one of the 10 most endangered historic places in the state. As will be described below, the housing development never happened.

It’s worth remembering that the Dakota people are the state’s original inhabitants. Other than areas connected to the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862, the state has few places on the Historic Register that focus on the Dakota people and their culture, the application said. Exceptions are Maka Yusota (Boiling Springs) in Shakopee (2003), and Indian Mounds Park in St. Paul (2014). More typical are sacred sites destroyed by settler developments. “Taku Wakan Tipi or Morgan’s Mound is now covered with a Veteran’s Administration Hospital, a major highway, housing, and portions of the Twin Cities airport.”

Here’s what you need to know about Oȟéyawahe, or Pilot Knob, and why preservation is important. 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.

Minneapolis City Council to Declare Oct. 10, 2016 “Coldwater Springs Protection and Preservation Day”, Pipe Ceremony Planned

Coldwater Springs (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Coldwater Springs (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Minneapolis City Council is expected to pass a resolution this Friday that will declare Oct. 10 Coldwater Springs Protection and Preservation Day. Everyone is invited to attend a pipe ceremony and celebration at Coldwater Springs on Indigenous Peoples Day, Monday, Oct. 10, starting at noon.

The resolution was authored by 12th Ward Councilmember Andrew Johnson, whose south Minneapolis district abuts Coldwater Springs, which is in on unincorporated Hennepin County land. The springs are located just east of the intersection of Hiawatha Avenue and the Crosstown Highway.

Coldwater Springs is near the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers and is sacred to Dakota people, the original people of the area. (The Dakota name for the spring is Mni Owe Sni, which translated means Coldwater Springs.) Camp Coldwater also was the first European-American settlement in the Minnesota Territory; the spring furnished water to Fort Snelling.

The resolution states in part:

That the City of Minneapolis reminds all government agencies to respect the 1805 treaty and honor both the spirit and the letter of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 and the 2001 state law relating to protection and preservation of Coldwater Springs.

Click here for the full text of the Coldwater Springs Resolution.

Those expected to speak on behalf of the resolution at the Minneapolis City Council meeting Friday include: Sheldon Wolfchild of the Lower Sioux Reservation, Sharon Lennartson, chair of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Tribal Community, and Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of the American Indian Movement.

Wolfchild will conduct the pipe ceremony at Coldwater Springs on Monday. Lennartson and Bellecourt are expected to speak, too. Coffee and cookies to follow. Bring family and friends!

For more on the First Amendment and treaty issues surrounding Coldwater Springs, read on.

Continue reading

A July 4 Reflection

It should go without saying that Independence Day is anything but for this country’s Native American peoples.

I am white, not Native. But the following are the things I hear from Native friends and read in Native publications around July 4. The critiques make sense to me.

This country’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, casts Native peoples as brutal savages. One of the justifications given for breaking away from England and King George is that: ” He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

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Swindling Dakota Prisoners: Franklin Steele and the Fort Snelling Concentration Camp

Franklin Steele provisioned the 1862-63 Dakota Concentration Camp and managed to fleece prisoners of valuable land rights.
Franklin Steele provisioned the 1862-63 Dakota Concentration Camp and managed to coerce prisoners to give up valuable land rights.

The names of Minnesota’s early political and business leaders dot our landscape. While they often are held up as heroes, some did truly horrific things.

Today we look at Franklin Steele, the namesake of Steele County. Steele arrived in the region in the 1837 and is credited with launching the lumber industry, organizing the water resources and building mills. He held the post of “sutler” at Fort Snelling for a time, a plum job selling provisions to the Army.

His business dealings and connections grew. In the aftermath of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862, Steele got the government contract to provide food to the Dakota prisoners held at the Fort Snelling concentration camp. The conditions were horrible during the winter of 1862-63. Between the cold and disease, hundreds of prisoners died, including young children.

One of the horrors at the camp has remained nearly invisible. Some “mixed blood” prisoners held valuable paper “scrip,”a form of land grant promising them up to 640 acres. History does not record how he did it, but Steele connived to get his hands on the scrips at very little if any cost. While prisoners left the camp broken, destitute, and hungry, Steele used the scrips to help build his fortune.

This narrative of Steele’s misdeeds comes from a powerful article titled The Great Treasure of the Fort Snelling Prison Camp by William Millikan, published  in the Minnesota History magazine, Spring, 2010. (Thanks to Alisha Volante for sharing this article.)

Here is the kicker at the end of article. Steele, his partner Henry Welles, and a corporate partner would later create the Northwestern National Bank of Minneapolis. According to Millikan:

The bank that became the backbone of the financial empire of the northwestern United States could trace its initial capital to the inmates of the Fort Snelling prison camp.

What happened? I highly recommending reading the entire article. It runs 14 pages. If you want a quick summary first, continue reading. Continue reading