Minnesota’s Fort Snelling is one of those places where a lot of things have happened that make it hard to construct some sort of triumphant narrative. It’s where Dred Scott was taken by his owner that provided the basis for his case that Roger Taney and the Supreme Court denied. During World War II, Japanese-American left the concentration camps on the West Coast to train soldiers in the Japanese language there. Of course as a frontier fort, it was the site of the United States’ western military forces. Finally and perhaps most important, it was a site of genocide. Despite being a sacred spot for the Dakota people as the place where the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers combine, it is also where they were rounded up and imprisoned during the Dakota War. That war happened because of the white genocidal project against the Dakota which had pressed them into starvation and desperation that led to violence against white settlers and then the inevitable crackdown that ended with Abraham Lincoln ordering the largest public execution in American history. Fort Snelling specifically was the site that the surrendering Dakota were imprisoned before their exile to western reservations. Pretty important story, right?
Not if you are a old Minnesota white person. As the Minnesota Historical Society is now interpreting the site as a site of genocide, Minnesota whites are angry.
The fort provided troops that protected immigrants as Minnesota was opened to settlement and guarded Indian reservations from white incursion. In 1862, when the Dakota killed more than 650 settlers including more than 100 children under the age of 10, Fort Snelling hurriedly provided supplies and newly enlisted troops before eventually sending them south. From its very beginning, the fort’s story has centered on military protection for the region and the nation.
Those savages, trying to protect their homes from genocide!
The story planned by MnHS focuses on a Dakota Indian story that is important but minor in comparison to that larger story of the military. The MnHS says it intends to work with its Indian Advisory Council, including representatives of all federally recognized Minnesota tribes. It also established a new group, the Dakota Community Council.
Yet there is no Military or Veterans Council to ensure that the larger military story is told.
MnHS’ recent publication “Fort Snelling at Bdote” offers clues to what that interpretation could contain. The small primer is based on secondary sources and not primary research into either archeological findings or reports from before the fort was built. Recent oral tradition is used as fact without verification. With that many taxpayer bonding dollars requested for Fort Snelling, we deserve better.
This replacing and elimination of factual history echoes MnHS’ recent decisions on art at the newly restored state Capitol. Several paintings were deemed “controversial art,” and therefore needed to be censored. War-related art was a vital part of architect Cass Gilbert’s vision for the building. MnHS determined to totally remove from the Capitol the only two paintings that memorialize the Dakota War of 1862, a training ground for many Minnesota troops heading south and the watershed event in Minnesota history.
“Attack on New Ulm” is going to the James J. Hill House. The other, “Eighth Minnesota at Killdeer Mountain,” remains in storage with no plans for display. That battle involved more Minnesota troops than other Civil War battles and ended Dakota raids into the state. Its strategic importance was abundantly clear to the generation that built the state Capitol. It is troubling that the MnHS’ publicly funded historians now choose to censor it.
What horrors! In 2017, recognizing that white people committed genocide against the Dakota over 150 years ago! Who will protect the white people’s history? Of course, this is a nation that just elected Donald “Andrew Jackson would have prevented the Civil War” Trump as president, so actually this ridiculous racist letter is entirely appropriate to the United States in 2017.