Indigenous population at Mac deserves better

Samantha Manz

by Proud Indigenous People for Education

[email protected]

Macalester College was built on land that belongs to the Dakota people. The Dakota, an Indigenous sovereign nation, were forced into exile after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. This exile is much more complicated than Minnesota history chooses to remember: it is a direct result of the settler colonialism that continues to displace Indigenous communities.

Macalester’s Indigenous student group, Proud Indigenous People for Education (PIPE), in collaboration with Adelante!, placed signs on campus reclaiming the land to honor the Dakota in order to bring attention to Indigenous People’s Day. Members of PIPE and Adelante! blocked off portions of campus with signs and caution tape to make a political statement about Macalester’s complicity in settler colonialism. Students and faculty would have had to walk around the reclaimed land in order to be reminded, at least temporarily, that the land is not theirs.

PIPE emailed Facilities last week with the plan to reclaim the land. Facilities responded and asked if we had approval from our org’s advisor and Campus Activities and Operations. We emailed Dr. Katrina Phillips, our advisor, and Joan Maze (Campus Activities and Operations) who both approved of our plan. PIPE was always transparent about our intentions in these communications. All emails and approvals were forwarded to Facilities, and Facilities passed the message along to Security and Grounds.

However, on the morning of Indigenous People’s Day, PIPE discovered that the signs and caution tape were taken down due to an apparent breakdown in communication. Security and Facilities have yet to tell us where the signs are. This issue speaks to a much larger issue about Native representation on Macalester’s campus. We do not think this was an act of malicious intent, but it clearly shows a lack of understanding about Indigenous people here in Minnesota and at Macalester.

Proud Indigenous People for Education is now asking Macalester to publicly recognize the Indigenous students here on this campus. We are continuously disregarded and ignored. Non-Indigenous students ask us about our blood quantum and tribal affiliations without understanding the trauma the Native communities face because of these questions. It is presumed that we fall under the umbrella term of multiculturalism and people of color.

However, Indigenous people have distinct political identities because we are members of sovereign nations. The ways we correspond with the United States government are drastically different than other people of color. We experience systemic racism and discrimination on a daily basis, in addition to cultural assimilation and environmental degradation.

This is not to say that other students of color do not also deal with systemic racism and discrimination. But, as Indigenous people, we tend to deal with a different type of discrimination. Indigenous people have a long history with and relationship to the land, and we have been displaced throughout history. Many Minnesotans know little, if anything, about the U.S.-Dakota War, and even fewer are aware that Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey infamously decreed in September of 1862 that “The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State,” calling their annihilation “an imperative social necessity.” On the day after Christmas in 1862, the largest mass execution in the history of United States was carried out in Mankato. President Abraham Lincoln condoned the execution of 38 Dakota Indian men.

By the summer of 1862, there was no sign of treaty-guaranteed government annuities and no trader willing to extend credit. The Dakota were starving. Andrew Myrick, a trader in the area, was among those who refused to extend credit to the Dakota. While his exact words are unknown, he told the Dakota that they could “eat grass” if they were hungry. War broke out soon after. After the war, over 1,000 Dakota were taken into custody. A five-man military tribunal initially sentenced 307 out of the accused 392 men to death. Lincoln decided that only the men who could be proven to have committed atrocities would hang. Many were wrongly convicted. The warriors, along with other Dakota men, women, and children, were marched from the Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling, where they faced a long and arduous internment. Those who survived the harsh winter at the fort were later forced to march to Crow Creek, a barren reservation in South Dakota. In March of 1863, Congress passed a law called “An Act for the Removal of the Sisseton Wahpeton, Medewakantan, and Wahpakoota Bands of Sioux or Dakota Indians and for the disposition of their Lands in Minnesota and Dakota.” The Dakota were pushed beyond the borders of their homeland, the land that had been theirs for generations. The men whose death sentences had been revoked were not released. After their imprisonment at Fort Snelling, the men were transferred to a prison in Davenport, Iowa and kept there for three years while their families struggled to survive in South Dakota. Years after the war, a white survivor wrote, “For had the Indians been treated as agreed, honest and upright, this bloody day in Minnesota’s history would have been avoided. But as it was, the Indians never had a square deal.”

The war and its aftermath still affects indigenous peoples, but it’s often ignored by the larger Minnesota community. Many think Fort Snelling is just another beautiful park, not a concentration camp. Just this spring, the Walker Art Museum installed a piece of “art” by a non-Indigenous man replicating the scaffold where the Dakota were hanged. A number of visitors to the Walker, ignorant of the painful history behind it, allowed their children to climb and play on the piece. This history must be retold and remembered, and we must listen to those who continue to experience historical trauma as a result.

It is vital to reclaim land on Macalester’s campus because most states still call the second Monday in October “Columbus Day.” The holiday celebrates a man who brought genocidal policies to the Americas and forever altered Indigenous communities. Proud Indigenous People for Education wanted to show the importance of recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Indigenous people. We are asking the Macalester community to publicly recognize us and stand with us in solidarity as we continue to plan events focusing on Indigenous issues.