Review – NCHS Exhibit

Nicollet County Historical Society, St. Peter
“Central Gallery Exhibit”
and
“Tales of the Territory: Minnesota 1849-1858”
Reviewed on January 4, 2013

Items of Interest

 The “Central Gallery Exhibit” discusses traditional Dakota culture, U.S./Dakota relations, the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and 1851 area people and environs. In 2009, this exhibit received an award from the American Association for State and Local History. “Tales of the Territory” contains a variety of subjects related to Minnesota Territory. This exhibit was created by the Minnesota Historical Society and was on display in St. Paul before coming here.

 There are many “flip-books” throughout the exhibits. This is my term for large page, booklet-like displays that contain 4 or more pages. These include various subjects such as area geography, the big woods, the prairie, the crossing, early people, the treaty, etc.

 There are displays on native grasses and trees. Ducks, in flight, are suspended from the ceiling about to land in a Swan Lake display. One panel discusses pre-Dakota people. There are displays on oxcarts and steamboats.

 Artifacts include Indian items, fur trade items, early settler items, cannon, birch bark canoe and period weapons.

 There are maps of Minnesota in 1850 and 1860, an enlarged map of St. Peter in 1870, Traverse des Sioux circa 1856-62, Dakota, Chippewa and Winnebago land cessions, and a map that appears to be an enlarged Paul Durand map.

 The south room contains enlarged copies of Frank Blackwell Mayer sketches and a theater where the TPT video “Dakota Conflict” can be viewed.

 Books used in the Central Exhibit: Ella Deloria – Speaking of Indians, David Nichols – Lincoln and the Indians and Gary Clayton Anderson – Kinsmen of Another Kind

 General Comments

  •  The exhibits are biased to the traditional Dakota view. Apparently, the fur traders and the U.S. Government didn’t do anything right.
  • No mention is made of when the Dakota Indians arrived and how they obtained this land. They took it by force from other Indians.
  •  “Dakota” is defined as the 7 bands: Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisseton, Wahpeton, Yankton, Yanktonai, and Teton. But the exhibit often refers to “the Dakota” when it should be more specific as to which Dakota bands it is discussing.
  • The exhibit discusses the 1851 and 1858 treaties with the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands. There is little or no discussion of the 1851 and 1858 treaties with the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands.
  • There is little discussion of the Dakota War of 1862 and its aftermath.
  • There is little discussion of the Christian and farmer Indians.
  • Complicated subjects are discussed too briefly on the panels.
  • Later day traditions from Western Dakota bands are stated as if they were the same as early Eastern Dakota traditions.
  • General statements are made that weren’t always true.

 Most Objectionable Statements – Central Gallery Exhibit

 Entryway Flip-books

“On July 23, 1851, representatives of the Dakota peoples…and U.S. Government officials met to sign a treaty that would open 24 million acres of land to settlement.”
—Incorrect – Both treaties of 1851 opened a total estimated 24 million acres of land.

“Today, the original signing site is marked by a boulder opposite the present Treaty Site…”
—Incorrect – It is not known exactly where the signing site was or if this boulder was there.

Map of Minnesota showing land ceded by the Dakota in the 1851 Treaties, land previously ceded and Dakota Communities.
—Incorrect – The land shown as ceded in 1851 does not indicate this was ceded by 2 treaties.
—Incorrect – The land shown along the Minnesota River appears to show only the 1851 reservations on the north side of the Minnesota River. No explanation is given.
—Incorrect – 4 Dakota communities are shown. This is present day, but no explanation is given that these are present day federally recognized Dakota Communities in Minnesota.

“Otherday later served as guide for U.S. soldiers…for which he received $2,500 from Congress.”
—Incorrect – Otherday received $2,500 for rescuing 62 people, not for his service as guide.

Flip-books regarding the 1851 Treaty at Traverse des Sioux

 Quote – “When we signed the treaty, the traders threw blanket over our faces, and darkened our eyes, and got us to sign papers we did not understand which were not read or explained to us.”    Red Iron, 1852
—Incorrect – This quote needs interpretation. The traders did not throw blankets over their faces.

Treaty Participants – Dakota Representatives

—Incorrect – There were 2 Cloud Mans. This is the wrong Cloud Man biography.

 Flip-books on Mazasha, Mazakutemani, and Henry Sibley

 “Mazasha was one of the Dakota leaders to sign the Treaty of 1851 and…realizing that they had been tricked into signing the “Traders Paper” he protested the payments to the traders.”
—Incorrect – The Traders Paper is not identified. It was a list of debts owed to the traders.
—Incorrect – Some leaders did know the purpose of the 0Traders Paper.
—Incorrect – The exhibit should include Madison Sweetzer’s role in misleading the Dakota.

“The traders eventually managed to get their money, and the Dakota did not forget the injustice.”
—What does it mean that the Dakota did not forget the injustice? Red Iron would later oppose war with the whites and help rescue hostages held by the hostile Indians.
—Incorrect – The traders did not get all of their money.

“By 1858 many of the promises of the Treaty were not met.”
—Incorrect – Which promises were not met?

“By the time the money arrived from the Treaty of 1858, more traders debts had accrued and the Dakota did not see much of the money.”
—Incorrect – “the Dakota” are only the Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisseton and Wahpeton
—Incorrect – The Indians drove up their own debts.  Money from the treaties paid their debts. 
—Incorrect – There were 2 treaties in 1858. The Lower Indians didn’t see much money.  The Upper Indians had considerable money left after paying debts.

“By 1862, the failings of the Government led to the eruption of frustrations among the Dakota, and forever changed the Dakota existence in their homeland and their own culture.”
—Incorrect – The causes of the Dakota War were many and complicated.
—Incorrect – Not all Dakota were frustrated.  How did their culture change?

 “Mazakutemani, along with some other Dakota, chose to adopt more aspects of Euro American culture…Mazkutemani was the brother Eagle Help, and Chief Cloud Man of the Lake Calhoun band…Euro Americans called him Paul”
—Incorrect – By 1862, about 250 families were on farms. This is hardly “some other Dakota”
—Incorrect – He was not the brother of this Cloud Man.
—When he was baptized, he either took the name or was given the name of Paul.

 “…Sibley was appointed…to put down one of the most successful American Indian resistance movements in U.S. history.”
—How was this one of the most successful resistance movements?

Panel – 8,000 Years of Indigenous Culture

 “The first humans are thought to have passed through Swan Lake 8,000 years ago.”
—When did the first Dakota arrive? 

“The Sissetonwan Dakota lived at…Lake of the Swans, for over 300 years.”
—Incorrect – This wasn’t the only home of the Sissetons.

“However Sleepy Eyes was to retain his Swan Lake residence of the remainder of his life – a promise broken by the U. S. government in 1857…”
—Incorrect – Sleepy Eyes was asked to move onto the reservation, for his own protection, because of the Inkpaduta murders.

“Peace is implied by the very name of the people, Odakota, a state or condition of peace…We Dakotas love peace within our borders.  Peace-making is our heritage…”
—Incorrect – Odakota is a later philosophy that applied to Western Dakota not to the earlier Eastern Dakota. They were continuously at war with their neighbors before and after the whites arrived. They have been described as a “warlike people” and a “warrior society.”

“Dakota traditions tell us their culture is thousands of years old. Archaeologists have found ancient evidence of Dakota People in the Minnesota and Mississippi River valleys.
—Everyone’s culture is thousands of years old.
—How old is “ancient”?

“Their homeland straddled the woodlands to the north and prairies to the south…The Dakota lived in villages situated along major rivers and lakes where they hunted deer in the woodlands, made maple sugar in the spring, hunted bison on the prairies during the summer, and harvested wild rice in the fall.”
—Incorrect – In 1862, the Dakota consisted of 7 bands. Not all of them lived as described.

“By 1851, this trade had diminished buffalo, beaver, and deer populations. With food sources depleted as waves of European immigrants flowed into the territory, Dakota culture and society faced a turning point.”
—Sibley wrote that there was a noticeable decline in fur-bearing animals by the 1830s. 
—Incorrect – The Dakota depleted their fur bearing animals to exchange for trade goods.
—What does this mean? – “Dakota culture and society faced a turning point?”

Panel – Dakota Governance

 “Group decisions were implemented by…leaders or spokesmen, who were also chosen by consensus. This differed from the Euro-American process of representative government that made decisions by majority vote.”

—Incorrect – The Dakota had at least 2 decision making groups. Membership was by reputation. Leaders were both hereditary and chosen. Decisions were made by consensus. The white decision-making groups were elected and decisions were made by consensus.

“In the Dakota way of being, land could not be owned by individuals.  Their economy was based on sustainable subsistence – take from the land only what one needed to survive, and do not accumulate wealth…”
—Incorrect – There are too many cases where more was taken than needed to survive.
—Incorrect – Wealth was accumulated as in number of wives and number of horses.

Panel – Strangers Became Relatives

 “Grandmother Earth, hear me…With all beings and all things we shall be relatives; just as we are related to You, O Mother, so we shall make peace with another people and shall be related to them…” – Black Elk
—Incorrect – The Lakota Grandmother was not the same as the Dakota Grandmother.   Who is Mother in this quote?

“The Dakota had an extensive intertribal trade network for thousands of years. Black Elk, a Lakota holy man…told of an ancient peace accord, or treaty, completed between the Dakota and Ree Nations…the Great Spirit, gave the Dakota a ceremony called Hunka that turned strangers into relatives…”
—Incorrect – Black Elk wrote about the Tetons. The focus of this exhibit is on the Sisseton and Wahpeton. The exhibit should discuss relationships of the traders with these bands.

Panel – Importance of the Pipe

 “Grandfather, Wakan Tanka, Father, Wakan Tanka, behold us!  Upon this earth we are fulfilling Thy will, By giving to us the sacred pipe, You have established a relationship with us, and this relationship we are now extending by making peace with another nation with whom we were at war.” – Black Elk
—Who is grandfather?  Who is Father?
—Wakan Tanka was a Dakota term created by the missionaries for the God of the whites.
—Incorrect – This is later day Lakota tradition. How was the pipe important to the Sisseton and Wahpeton Bands.

“The earliest European traders and explorers learned that carrying a sacred pipe to previously unvisited villages guaranteed safe passage.”
—If the Dakota were as peaceful as stated above, the pipe wasn’t necessary.

“…each treaty with the U.S. continued to be bound by smoking the sacred pipe.  No American Indian ever broke a treaty sealed with the sacred pipe.”
—Incorrect – In the 1858 Treaties, the Dakota agreed not to make war on the U.S.  They broke these treaty promises.

Panel – The Trader’s Path into Dakota Society

 “…You assumed that as relatives they would be trustworthy, and by the same token you were obligated yourself.” – Ella Deloria
—Ella Deloria wrote about the Teton and Yankton Bands at a later date. The exhibit should focus on the earlier Sisseton and Wahpeton Bands.

“Eighteenth-century French fur traders were the first Europeans to gain access to Dakota communities through Hunka.”
—Which Dakota bands?

“In the fall, traders gave gifts of traps, spears, guns and ammunition, and expected Dakota gifts of furs in the spring.”
—Incorrect – Maybe gifts were given at first encounters, but when trade started, it became an exchange of value for value.

“During hard times traders gave away much of their winter food supply because it was against Dakota principles to hoard.”
—Incorrect – Traders shared what they could, not because it was against Dakota principles to hoard.

Panel – The Marshall Trilogy

 —The subject of Indian sovereignty too complicated to be dealt with so briefly on this panel.
—The Indians always were and still are about as sovereign as the U.S. allows them to be.

Panel – Trade Deficit

 “To promote this disposition to exchange lands, which they have to spare and we want, for necessaries, which we have to spare and they want, we shall push our trading houses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what individuals can pay, they are willing to lop them off by a cession of lands.” – Thomas Jefferson
—Incorrect – Jefferson said this in 1803. Prove that this ever became U.S. Indian policy.
—Disrespectful – Prove the fur traders collaborated with the U.S. to cheat the Indians.

“The Dakota welcomed white traders into their extended families through their ideal of Hunka…the traders assimilated into Dakota society and followed Dakota customs.”
—Incorrect – Name one trader who assimilated into Dakota society. The traders also introduced their customs into Dakota society.

“Scarcity, caused by over-hunting, strained these relationships by the 1800s.” The reciprocal arrangement, that provided gifts to the Dakota in the fall for furs harvested in the spring, broke down.  The Dakota could not harvest enough furs to satisfy traders’ quotas.”
—Incorrect – After first encounters, this was not an exchange of gifts.

“Some traders continued to provide goods in the fall for credit, which when unfulfilled by spring hunts, became debt.  This was a foreign concept to the Dakota, whose way of being forbade hoarding.”
—Incorrect – They quickly learned about debt. How was giving credits a form of hoarding?

“The Dakota governing principle of reciprocity then became an avenue for traders to put the Dakota into increased debt.”
—Totally incorrect – The Indians caused their debts, when they could not find enough furs. 

Panel – Acquiring Dakota Lands

 Treaty of 1837 with the Mdewakanton Band
“The Mdewakanton, who hoped to improve their economy, replaced the trader’s gifts of goods for yearly annuities of food, money, and Euro-American agricultural technology.”
—Incorrect – The fur trade continued as it had.  Indians obtained credit and then paid their debts with furs or annuities. This was not an exchange of gifts.

“Though a few traders siphoned much of the government’s payment to satisfy debts, the Mdewakanton slightly improved their situation and began to build a sustainable new economy west of the Mississippi.”
—Disrespectful – What does this mean? “…a few traders siphoned much of the government’s payment to satisfy debts.”
—Incorrect – They continued to hunt and trap on the east side of the Mississippi. 

Panel – Traders Arrange a Treaty

 “By the late 1840s, the…Dakota economy failed again and they faced starvation… the government and traders encouraged them to sell their lands.  Some traders, a number of whom were mixed bloods, raised prices and extended credit limits.  That increased Dakota debt.  These traders encouraged the Dakota to sell their land to help pay off that debt.”
—I would like more evidence that the traders were doing this. But it was the Dakota who accepted the credits.

“Government agents promised annuity money, tools, food and shelter in exchange for land.  The Dakota hoped that these payments would help build a new life on their retained lands.  The government asked traders to encourage the Dakota to sign the new treaty.”
—Incorrect – The Government promised much more than this.
—Did the U.S. ask traders to encourage the Dakota to sign the new treaty?

Panel – Treaties are Contracts between Nations

 “The Dakota People were, and are today, a sovereign nation.”
—Incorrect – They are only as sovereign as the U.S. permits them to be. 

Panel – The Treaty

 “Father, you think it a great deal you are giving for this country.  I don’t think so, for both our lands and all we get from them will at last belong to the white man…” – Curly Head, 1851
—The Sisseton and Wahpeton wanted a treaty. They were starving. Whites were rapidly moving in on the treaty ceded lands.  The Indians had few options.
—Curly Head did not represent all Indians.

“Through past experience they hoped their Euro-American relatives would reciprocate their gift of land with an initial payment of cash and annual annuities.”
—Incorrect – This concept of gift-giving theme is carried too far.

“Leaders were tricked into signing the “Traders Papers.”  The illegal document, though still enforced, siphoned large amounts of money from the treaty to pay alleged Dakota debts.  In the end the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux failed to contribute to a new sustainable life for the Dakota.  Forced onto small tracts of land, with less than they were promised, the Dakota became further dependent on a government that was less willing to honor agreements.”
—Incorrect – We don’t know how many did or did not know what they were signing.
—Incorrect – Stating that the document was illegal is an opinion.
—Disrespectful – “alleged Dakota debts” suggests the traders were dishonest. Prove it.
—Incorrect – They were not forced – their leaders agreed to move to the reservations.
—Incorrect – They continued to leave the reservations for various reasons.
—Incorrect – How was the government less willing to honor agreements?

Panel – Numerous Violations

 “By 1862 failed promises and a collapsed Dakota economy directly contributed to the tragedies of the U.S. Dakota War.”
—What does “failed promises and a collapsed Dakota economy” mean?
—Incorrect – The causes of the Dakota War were much more complicated than this.

“Day stated, “traders [are] the greatest curse of the Indians and the curse of the nation…He uncovered fraud among some government agents too… “The whole system is defective and must be revised, or your red children…will continue to be wronged and outraged…””
—Prove that Day was correct. Those that Day accused were never charged.

Panel – Thriving in the Modern World

 “Before the treaty, trust between Dakota people and Euro-Americans existed because Euro-Americans learned to work and live in the Dakota world view.  After 1851, few Euro-Americans strove to understand it.  Any promise of two great cultures learning from each other and creating a bright new world was lost.”
—Incorrect – To say the 1851 Treaty caused the separation is incorrect. This is too general.
—Unbalanced – How many Dakota strove to understand the White point of view.
—“Creating a bright new world?”  Come on.

“Dakota communities in Minnesota include Shakopee, Prairie Island, Lower and Upper Sioux.”
—Incorrect – Mendota and Pipestone are also Dakota communities.

Letter from Sibley to Lincoln on execution of the 38 in Mankato
—People unfamiliar with the Dakota War will wonder why 38 Indians were hanged in Mankato.
—Unbalanced – What about the deaths of whites after the war?

“A few dishonest traders, an apathetic U. S. government, shortage of game, and crop failures soon made even those modest goals unattainable.”
—Now it states, “a few dishonest traders” – Finally a correct statement about the traders.

Hanging from the ceiling

“The Sioux treaty will hang like a curse over our heads for the rest of our lives.”   – Dousman to Sibley, August 1851
—What does this mean?

The most atrocious display

 There are two crates and white and black bags labeled with different foods. The visitor is asked to sort the bags by color into crates. One crate contains foods the Indians ate before the treaty; the other crate contains rations provided by the treaty. The visitor is asked to compare the weight of the crates – The crate containing foods eaten before the treaty is heavier.
—Very Incorrect – It wasn’t expected the Indians could live on rations alone. There were fields and gardens for the agencies, Indian villages and individual farmers.

 “Dakota people on the reservations didn’t have much food to eat.”
—In the spring of 1862, some of the Dakota People on the reservations didn’t have much food to eat. Crops had failed the year before. The winter hunts were poor. The Agent refused to issue food to the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute.

“For hundreds of years Dakota people moved with the seasons and knew where to find the best foods. They hunted animals like deer and bison, caught fish, gathered plant foods like wild rice, and grew crops like squash.”
—The hunts were not always successful

“After the Dakota signed treaties…they had to move to reservations – small tracts of land they did not sell. Life was hard. There were not many animals to hunt. They could not move around to gather plant foods. Grasshoppers ate their crops. Dakota people were hungry.”
—Incorrect – They agreed to move to the reservations.
—Incorrect – At 20 miles wide and 150 miles long, these were hardly “small tracts”
—Incorrect – They were not confined to the reservations. They continued to leave the reservations to go wherever they chose.
—Grasshoppers would have eaten their crops on the reservations or off the reservations.

“A Dakota man was rationed 1 barrel of flour. An army officer reported, “when a barrel was removed, the flour was as hard as a similar lump of dried mortar.” A Dakota leader told an army officer in 1854 the pork was so spoiled he threw it away after leaving the government agency.”

—The flour was ground down and used. —Some of this flour was sold in St. Peter.
—Some food, received by the whites and Indians, was unfit to eat.  This was not the norm. 

Most Objectionable Statements – Tales of the Territory Exhibit

“…the Dakota and Ojibwe were compelled to sign away almost all of their homelands for promises that were rarely kept. They often had little understanding of the obscure and poorly translated language of the treaties…”
—Incorrect – Which promises were not kept?
—Incorrect – The Indians were more intelligent than portrayed here.

“How can you sell something you don’t own…They had no idea of owning land…The earth is our mother…To have someone… say, “I want to buy your mother.” What do you think?”
—Incorrect – As a nation, as bands and as villages, the Dakota claimed and defend their land.
—The concept that the earth is our mother conflicts with another statement saying the earth is our grandmother. To say “I want to buy your mother” carries this concept too far.

“Indians were never starving to death until they moved onto the reservations…The very idea that our people were starving to death before the Europeans came along…hey, we’ve been here from the beginning of time…”
—Incorrect – To say they never starved until they moved onto the reservations is incorrect. The reason the U.S. treated with the Sisseton and Wahpeton first is because they were starving.
—Incorrect – Have any people been here since the beginning of time?

“This was their homeland.”
—Exactly where was the Dakota homeland? People have inhabited this area for thousands of years. In this timeline, the Dakota were relatively late arrivals.

 “The Earth is our Father…”
—Incorrect – As stated above, the earth is “grandmother” and the earth is “mother.”

“White Americans assumed that treaties gave them the right to treat Indians as wards of the nation and to manage their affairs. This led to provisions such as parceling out money in annuities, with strings attached, such as demands that Indians live “like white people” – that is, as farmers, in small families, with the children sent to white schools. Using treaty money to pay off Indians’ inflated debts to traders also was common though illegal…”
—Incorrect – During the annuity period up to 1862, the U.S. never demanded that the Indians live like white people.
—Disrespectful – Prove that the debts paid to the traders were inflated and illegal.

The war “left hundreds dead”
—Incorrect – This does not accurately state the facts. About 650 whites and 150 Dakota were killed during the war and hundreds on both sides died after the war.

“August 15, 1862 – Lower Sioux Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith refused to distribute food stores that legally belonged to the Dakota.”
—Incorrect – Galbraith was Agent for the Upper Sioux and Lower Sioux.
—Incorrect – He did issue food to the Upper Sioux but not to the Lower Sioux.

“November 7 – 1,700 Dakota interned at Fort Ridgely”
—Incorrect – About this date, they camped overnight at Fort Ridgely on their way to an internment camp at Fort Snelling.

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