An artist's rendering of the execution of 38 Dakota men on Dec. 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota.

An artist's rendering of the execution of 38 Dakota men on Dec. 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota.

Radio Program Sheds Light on Minnesota’s Little Known History

It is the year that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has declared a reconciliation and renounced the call from that same office in 1862 to exterminate or remove all Dakota people from the state.

It is the year that Minneapolis chose a Dakota author’s book as its One Minneapolis One Read—Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past by Diane Wilson—to spur conversations about that fateful year and the current situation of the Dakota people.

It is the year of many activities to recognize a tragic history that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocents—Indian and non-Indian—including the largest mass execution in U.S. history—the hanging of 38 Dakota men on December 26, 1862.

It is the 150th anniversary of six weeks termed the U.S.-Dakota War.

Yet, according to John Biewen, audio program director at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, many people even in Minnesota are not aware of this history. Biewen, who grew up in Mankato, Minnesota, the site of that mass execution, created a documentary for the NPR program “This American Life” about that year, the starvation and broken treaty promises that led several hundred Dakota men to attack Minnesota non-Indian settlers and ultimately to the forced removal and hundreds of deaths of Dakota people marched from Minnesota to imprisonment in the state and ultimately diaspora outside their homeland.

“And the place where that hanging happened, it's right in the heart of downtown. I would've hung out at the mall not far from there, a few blocks down the street. And I would have ridden past that spot on my way to Pizza Hut with my buddies. Who knows how many times. And never, it just never—I didn't hear about it,” Biewen said on the program.

The “This American Life” program can be downloaded as a podcast through iTunes or can be accessed at ThisAmericanLife.org.

Coming soon Indian Country Today Media Network will feature a story exploring the activities around Minnesota this year to open a painful history and better conversation. We will be speaking to Wilson about her journey of Dakota self-discovery and with Mona Smith, a Dakota artist and a prime originator of the Bdote Memory Map about Dakota history in Minnesota, and others.

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