Is MHS prejudiced?

According to the Minnesota Historical Society website, the Society was established in 1849. The Society “collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing.”

Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) receives the majority of its funds from the State of Minnesota. Other sources of funds include admissions, gift shop sales, and donations.

I started reviewing Dakota Indian and Dakota War products in 2001 with a review of the MHS Lower Sioux Agency exhibit and trail signs. I questioned why MHS was so unbalanced in this text. Two MHS employees told me the “pendulum story.” For many years, the history pendulum was high on the white side. In 2000, MHS decided it was time for the pendulum to swing high on the Dakota side. The pendulum remains high on the Dakota side today.

MHS has an Indian Advisory Panel consisting of representatives from each of the federally recognized Minnesota Indian communities. They review all MHS products related to Minnesota Indians. I know of no other standing MHS advisory committees representing other ethnic groups.

MHS offered some hope of balance when they asked 2 non-Indian advisory panels to assist with their U.S.-Dakota War Exhibit in St. Paul. But, the back-end of the exhibit is entirely about the Dakota after the war. Little or no mention is made of the whites after the war.

The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 was Minnesota’s most tragic event. It affected thousands of whites and Indians. After 12 years, I am still puzzled why MHS continues to focus on the Dakota Indians in its products. I have posted 7 reviews of MHS products to this blog. Following is a summary of these products:

1. MHS – Lower Sioux Agency Historic Site exhibit and trail signs (2000)
A summary of the “Most Objectionable Statements” shows 85 incorrect statements, 7 unbalanced statements, and 9 disrespectful statements.

2. Traverse Des Sioux Signs (circa 2002)
A summary of the “Most Objectionable Statements” shows 35 incorrect statements, 2 unbalanced statements and 5 disrespectful statements.

3. Northern Lights Textbook (2003)
A summary of the “Most Objectionable Statements” shows 71 incorrect statements, 11 unbalanced statements and 7 disrespectful statements.

4. Two Fort Snelling Trail Signs (circa 2011)
A summary of the “Most Objectionable Statements” shows 13 incorrect statements, 4 unbalanced statements and 0 disrespectful statements.

5. St. Paul U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 Exhibit (2012)
A summary of the “Most Objectionable Statements” shows 43 incorrect statements, 4 unbalanced statements and 4 disrespectful statements.

6. Mobile Tour (2012 – ongoing)
A summary of the “Most Objectionable Statements” shows 26 incorrect statements, 5 unbalanced statements and 0 disrespectful statements.

7. Dakota War Website (2012 – ongoing)
A summary of the “Most Objectionable Statements” shows 82 incorrect statements, 12 unbalanced statements and 1 disrespectful statement.

In the above 7 products, there are 355 incorrect statements, 45 unbalanced statements and 26 disrespectful statements.

Cicero’s quote:

“The first law for the historian is that he shall never dare utter an untruth. The second is that he shall suppress nothing that is true. Moreover, there shall be no suspicion of partiality in his writing, or of malice.”

                        Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Oratore, II.XV.62

What is Cicero saying? History must be as accurate, as balanced and as respectful as possible. 

Incorrect

I say a statement is incorrect if it is wrong; or it is incomplete; or it does not apply to all members of the group.

MHS calls their St. Paul Dakota War Exhibit a “truth recovery” project. But, it contains errors and it is not balanced. Some members of the Indian community call for “truth telling” but some of them are not telling the truth. There are people who are still healing over what happened in 1862. How can they heal when they don’t know the truth?

MHS publishes opinions made by anyone. Viewers accept these opinions as facts. MHS should not publish any statements until they are proven correct. As the State’s Historical Society, MHS should hold their products to the highest standard.

In many of the products, “the Dakota” are not defined. General statements are made about “the Dakota” that did not apply to all Dakota.

There is confusion as to who, where and when on maps and in many statements about the Dakota.

There is little discussion on why the whites were so angry. Why were 38 Dakota hanged and most of the Dakota removed from the State? Traditional Dakota warfare was brutal. More than 650 innocent whites were killed; some in the worst way imaginable.

Complex subjects are not given enough space. If topics cannot be fully discussed, they should not be included.

Unbalanced

MHS also falls short on balance. An unbalanced statement is a statement made about one group while corresponding information is not provided for other groups involved.

While critical of U.S. treaties, MHS does not discuss how the Dakota Indians obtained their land. They did not write treaties. They took it by force from other tribes.

MHS favors the Dakota over the whites. MHS favors the Dakota who went to war over Dakota who opposed the war and rescued hostages. The majority of the Dakota Indians opposed war. This needs to be stated more often.

Two of the products that are ongoing are extremely unbalanced by at least 4 to 1 in favor of the Dakota Indians.

Disrespectful

A disrespectful statement is a statement made without furnishing adequate proof. Of the 25 disrespectful statements, whites were disrespected 24 times and Dakota who opposed the war were disrespected once.

The U.S. Government is criticized repeatedly. Didn’t the U.S. do anything right?

The fur traders are criticized repeatedly. I have asked several times that MHS name the dishonest fur traders and prove this. MHS has refused.

Conclusion

Why is the Minnesota Historical Society so inaccurate, unbalanced and disrespectful in their products about the Dakota War? Why do they favor the Dakota over the whites and the hostile Dakota over the Dakota who opposed the war? I can’t answer these questions.

The Dakota War was tragic for all ethnic groups involved during and after the war. MHS has decided that their Dakota War products should focus mainly on the Dakota Indians. It is time for the pendulum to come to rest at the bottom. Please contact Steve Elliott, President of the Minnesota Historical Society, at steve.elliott@mnhs.org and voice your concerns.

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