Truth and Reconciliation in the Midwest
November 25, 2012
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This week’s This American Life episode from WBEZ addressed the largest mass execution in United States’ history: the public hanging of 38 members of the Dakota tribe in 1862 in my home state of Minnesota.
Much of the episode focuses on how little Minnesotans – and more generally, Americans – know about this execution of the Dakota people. One could argue that this and many other violent events in Native American history qualify as extreme versions of “Victor’s Justice”; the historical accounts of violence against Native Americans are often unfamiliar to the general public and are rarely recorded from Native Americans’ perspective. This event is no different.
This past summer, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton named August 17th, 2012, the 150th anniversary of the executions, a “Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in Minnesota.” What I found particularly interesting is how his call for remembrance and reconciliation echo calls for reconciliation in many the conflict situations we have studied in class. In a statement, Dayton said: “hostile feelings do still exist between some Native Americans and their neighbors. Detestable acts are still perpetrated by members of one group against the other. Present grievances, added to past offenses, make it difficult to commemorate the past, yet not continue it.” The Governor went on: “I ask everyone to remember that dark past; to recognize its continuing harm in the present; and to resolve that we will not let it poison the future.” He entreated Minnesotans “to practice not only remembrance, but also reconciliation.”
I was struck by this emphasis on memory and reconciliation, and how Dayton’s words sound eerily familiar to the post-conflict truth and reconciliation case studies we’ve looked at this quarter. I also admit that as a Minnesota native, while I had heard of the events in 1862, I was not aware until I heard this week’s TAL episode that it was largest mass execution in United States history. It serves as a reminder to those of us from the United States to think critically about the U.S.’s history of conflict and the need for truth and reconciliation within our own borders as well as internationally.