International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Truth and Reconciliation in the Midwest

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. 


4 responses to “Truth and Reconciliation in the Midwest

  1. patrickwu November 26, 2012 at 1:22 am

    This is a good example of why truth and reconciliation is vital, regardless of how long ago the crime committed had happened. Mark Dayton’s apology, which comes from one of the highest representatives of Minnesota’s government, still makes amends with individuals that the past Minnesotan government have wronged. Like what Dayton said, reconciliation is vital because without it, the unaccounted crimes poison the future. Resentments build up between groups as generations pass if there is no form of reconciliation, and these resentments become culturally ingrained. Through reconciliation, it is not only the hope that current resentments will be reduced but also the culture will change itself–that is, there will be a mended culture where the resentments will be reduced. This brings permanent change. The resentment between the Native Americans and their neighbors, even in this day, can still be further reduced with more efforts of acknowledging what the government did wrong and letting more people know about what had happened, so the Native American’s grievances and pain are never forgotten.

  2. Alana Tiemessen November 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Every country has to reckon with a dark period of its past and commemorative efforts like this have important educative effects in the process of this reckoning.
    The process is interesting and complex given how much time has passed. Clearly the parties directly impacted by this event have passed, but reconciliation then takes on a different meanings for later generations.

    Thanks for sharing – it’s an interesting and surprising case.

  3. dhsong November 27, 2012 at 11:12 am

    We’ve seen several attempts of reconciliation and truth-telling in North America. This shows that those who committed human rights violations in a mass scale in the past are willing to reconcile with the victims, even if it occurred more than 100 years ago. Maybe it takes time for a group of people to accept what they did to others and seek reconciliation. I am curious as to what drives these governments to try to reconcile with the past now. Is it the civil society that drives these movements? What is the local reaction to these movements? Do you think there can be cases where we should wait for more “organic” or “natural” movements to reconciliation?

  4. mhdeck November 30, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    I found this post to be very interesting and it challenged me to look for more cases of truth and reconciliation outside of the case studies from class. Canada is currently in the process of holding hearings for its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. You can watch the live stream here: .
    The Commission has the mandate to learn the truth about what happened in the residential schools and inform Canadian. The residential schools were government funded and church-run. Their purpose was to eliminate parental involvement, practicing of their native culture, and speaking their native language in development Aboriginal children. The schools were open between the 1870s and 1996. I was shocked by the 1996 date. Approximately, 80,000 former students are still living today ( What is the role of the government, if any, in helping former students reconcile with the past and rebuild their native communities? How do justice and peace interact when the country is not at war, but deep divides exist in the population?
    The mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is to learn the truth about what happened in the schools and share the information with Canadians. Testimonies will be given by survivors, communities, and school officials. I found this commission to be particularly interesting because it work focuses abuses that lasted for over 150 years. The work of the Commission must deal with uncovering the truth about the schools and the impact on society.
    This link is to a documentary that was created by students who had previously attended a hearing: . The documentary is interesting because it is the product of youth that decided to take part in the reconciliation process.

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