Review – MHS TNW Exhibit

Then Now Wow Exhibit
Minnesota Historical Society (MHS)
St. Paul History Center
Reviewed April 6, 2013 

Items of Interest 

According to the MHS website viewed on April 13, 2013:
          “From the prairies in the south, to the Twin Cities, to the forests up north, every corner of the new “Then Now Wow” exhibit at the Minnesota History Center invites visitors to get active and get involved in Minnesota history—especially families with children and students on field trips.”
          ““This is the first time we’ve created an exhibit specifically for children,” said Lead Exhibit Developer Ellen Miller. “But there are so many compelling things to do and see in “Then Now Wow,” people of all ages are going to love it and learn from it.””
          ““Then Now Wow” opened in November 2012 and is funded primarily by $2.5 million from the Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through a special appropriation made by the legislature in 2009. To date, the Minnesota Historical Society has also raised $481,000 in corporate and foundation gifts for the exhibit.”

A wide variety of subjects are included in this exhibit. I focus only on the text and videos related to the Dakota Indians and the Dakota War of 1862.

General Comments

  • Why is MHS prejudiced against Minnesota’s white pioneers and the U.S. Government?
  • Incorrect, unbalanced and disrespectful – The Broken Promises video is the worst Dakota Indian/Dakota War product that I have seen. It should be removed from the exhibit.
  • Disrespectful – The truth was sad enough. MHS revises and embellishes this history. What happened to “truth recovery” and “truth telling?”
  • Unbalanced – How the whites obtained the land from the Dakota Indians is discussed. How the Dakota obtained the land is not discussed. They did not write treaties. They killed members of other tribes and took their land.
  • Unbalanced – The effect of the Dakota War on the Dakota is discussed. The effect of the Dakota War on the whites is not discussed.
  • Unbalanced – Nothing is said about the farmer and Christian Dakota. By 1862, Some 250 Dakota families were on farms. There were 4 missions on the Dakota reservations.
  • Unbalanced – Nothing is said about the friendly Dakota who allied with the U.S. Army to rescue the hostages and bring an early end to the Dakota War. The friendly Dakota saved many Dakota and white lives.
  • The subjects related to the treaties and the Dakota War, are much too complicated for children. 

Most Objectionable Statements 

Broken Promises Video 

—Disrespectful – The traditional Dakota way of life was changing. The U.S. was trying to help in this transition. This video gives the impression that the U.S. was not concerned about the Dakota Indians. Didn’t the U.S. do anything right?

 —Henry H. Sibley arrived in present day Mendota, Minnesota in 1834. He was a partner in the Western Outfit, a fur trade company. Sibley was a U.S. representative to Congress for 4 years. He was Minnesota’s first governor. He was a U.S. Army General. He led the army that defeated the hostile Dakota in 1862. He was one of the founders of the Minnesota Historical Society. He served for some years as its president. He was a University of Minnesota regent. So, how does Minnesota Historical Society want Sibley remembered?

MHS Locusts
Faces of Sibley and others pasted on the heads of locusts in the Broken Promises Video

—On August 17 or 18, Chief Little Crow tried to talk his warriors out of going to war. He reportedly said, “See! – the white men are like the locusts when they fly so thick that the whole sky is a snowstorm…Kill one – two – ten and ten times ten will come to kill you. See Anderson and Woolworth, Through Dakota Eyes.

 —Does this quote from Little Crow justify this scene? Little Crow also said to his warriors, “You are full of the white man’s devil-water (rum). You are like dogs in the Hot Moon when they run mad and snap at their own shadows.” What would be the reaction of the Indian community to a scene of dogs with faces of Dakota men pasted on their heads?

 —To drive the point home, elsewhere in the exhibit there are signs with text on locusts:

“Every thing was taken slick and clean all around us. One day we thought it was raining, but instead of drops of water rattling on the roof boards, it was grasshoppers. We looked at our little garden and potato patch, and it wasn’t long before everything was taken slick and clean all around us.”  “They even ate the laundry that was left on the line!”

 —Who at MHS made the decision to desecrate General Henry Sibley and other Minnesota white pioneers? How high up in the organization did this decision rise?

 —If this scene were my only objection to this video, I would say remove the scene. However, there are more problems. Read on.

 More and more [setters] come. The animals you depend on are disappearing.
—Incorrect – Henry Sibley wrote that by the mid 1830s, there was a noticeable decline in the fur bearing animals. The Dakota over-hunted their animals to obtain fur trade products.

Ramsey offered up a treaty. Missionaries and fur traders work to get the treaty signed. Riggs has a plan to civilize the Dakota: “We will educate your children and teach you to plow.” Ramsey said you may live on this land forever.
—Incorrect – The U.S. offered the treaty. Ramsey was appointed as one of the commissioners.
—Incorrect – There were 2 treaties in 1851.
—Disrespectful – Why did the missionaries and fur traders want a treaty?
—Disrespectful – The visitor can look at this in two ways: Riggs wanted to destroy Dakota culture. Riggs wanted them to survive. Which was intended?
—Incorrect – Ramsey did have not the authority to say this. The Dakota who went to war violated the 1858 Treaties. If not for this war, there would be a large Dakota population on this reservation land today.

Riggs calls you over to sign the traders’ papers.
—The traders’ papers were agreements to pay their debts to the traders.
—Incorrect – Riggs did not call all of the Dakota leaders over to sign the traders’ papers. Riggs said he directed several leaders to sign the traders’ papers. See Folwell, A History of Minnesota, vol.1, page 282.
—Incorrect – The Mdewakanton did not sign traders’ papers in the Treaty of Mendota. William Folwell wrote, “A traders’ paper was signed by 7 chiefs, soldiers, and braves of the Wahpekute band. As there were no claims against the Mdewakanton antedating 1837, a separate procedure was adopted for them.” See Folwell, A History of Minnesota, vol. 1, page 284.
—Incorrect – It is implied that the Dakota did not know they were signing the traders’ papers. William Folwell wrote, “Brown, Dousman, and Riggs told of councils which were held between the Indians and the traders for the purpose of discussing and arranging a settlement of their accounts.” See Folwell, A History of Minnesota, vol. 1, page 284.

The Dakota are paid $3,000,000 for 35 million acres
—Incorrect – The Dakota were paid $3,075,000.
—Incorrect – Thomas Hughes estimated a total of 35 million acres ceded by both 1851 Treaties. However, the exact number of acres has never been accurately determined. See Folwell, A History of Minnesota, vol. 1, page 287.

The traders are paid $431,735 in the traders’ papers
—Incorrect – This statement refers to the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux only.
—Extremely incorrect – Thomas Hughes wrote, “The trader’s claims, according to statements later made by Governor Ramsey under oath, totaled $431,753.78, but this sum was later scaled down by a committee of traders…to bring them within the amount limited in the treaty, finally left at $210,000.” See Hughes, Old Traverse des Sioux, page 99. Why does MHS want the visitor to think the fur traders were paid this higher amount?

The U.S. promised a small area of land for the Dakota people.
—Incorrect – At a combined total of 20 by about 150 miles, this was hardly a small area. The Dakota leaders agreed that their people would learn how to farm as the whites.
—Incorrect – The Dakota were not confined to their reservations.

The U.S. paid only interest.
—Incorrect – The U.S. paid more than just interest.
—The interest payments would continue for 50 years. I believe the interest rate was 5%. How did this compare to the going interest rates for this period of time?

In 1858, the Dakota lost the north half of their reservations. They must send their children to schools. They must give up their way of life. If you refuse to sign the treaty, your food and supplies will be cut off. You are told to work at farming to sustain yourself. You and your relatives are just scraping by.
—Incorrect – In 1851, the Dakota were not given ownership of their reservations. In 1858, they were given ownership of the reservations on the south side of the river. After the 1858 Treaties, they continued to hunt on the north side of the river and elsewhere off the reservations.
—Incorrect – Where does it say they must send their children to schools?
—Incorrect – Where does it say they must give up their way of life?
—Incorrect – Where does it say their food and supplies would be cut off?
—Incorrect – They chose to be farmers or hunters. The farmers continued to hunt.
—Incorrect – The farmers and better hunters were not just scraping by.

In 1862, the promised payments are 2 months late. Four Dakota hunters kill 5 people at Acton. The Dakota know that the whites will punish all Dakota. Shakopee says if the annuity comes, the traders will get it. They go to war.
—Incorrect – According to the 1851 Treaties, the payments were due July 1. In 1862, the payments arrived less than 7 weeks late.
—Incorrect – The 4 Dakota who committed the murders, offered to turn themselves over to the military authorities. Their families and friends chose war instead.
—Incorrect – There was a false rumor that the fur traders would take half of their annuities.

Scores of people on both sides were killed. More than 300 Dakota died at Fort Snelling. The hanging of 38 Dakota was the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Little Crow was pursued by bounty hunters.
—Unbalanced – Failure to say how many were killed on each side leaves the visitor to think these deaths were balanced. More than 650 whites were killed and about 145 Dakota were killed.
—Incorrect – MHS cannot prove how many died at Fort Snelling.
—Incorrect – This was the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. history.
—Unbalanced – this was the largest mass-murder of white civilians by Indians in U.S. history.
—Incorrect – Bounties were not being offered when Chief Little Crow was killed. Bounty hunters were not pursuing him.

The Dakota are defeated by the U.S. Army. The treaties are revoked. The Dakota are forced out of Minnesota. Graphic details of Little Crow’s death
—Incorrect – The hostile Dakota were defeated by the U.S. Army allied with the friendly Dakota.
—Incorrect – The treaties were abrogated because the hostile Dakota violated the 1858 Treaties and went to war.
—Unbalanced – In the 1970s, Dakota descendants were paid for land and annuities taken.
—Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota were forced out of Minnesota.
—Unbalanced – Where are the graphic details of whites killed by Indians? 

Indian Boarding Schools

 —Unbalanced – Where is the discussion on the white boarding schools of that era?

 —Unbalanced – When their mother died, my Dakota grandfather and his brother were sent to Carlisle Indian School. They had no one to care for them. What would have happened to them if not for Carlisle? My grandfather never complained about Carlisle. My grandfather’s brother went on to become a county court judge. Where are these stories in this exhibit?

 —Unbalanced – Whenever I hear that someone’s parents or grandparents were sent to Indian Boarding schools I believe they had an unstable, financially poor or abusive home. At the time Elden Lawrence and his ancestors attended boarding schools, there were public schools on the reservation where they lived. Why didn’t they go to these public schools?

 Starting in fourth grade, students spent half-days in the classroom and the rest of the day at some form of manual labor.
—Unbalanced – I suspect children also worked in the white boarding schools.

Most boarding school survivors recall the loss of their language as the most painful reminder of their experience.
—Incorrect – Use of the word “survivors” suggests there was a high death rate in the schools.
—Unbalanced – Loss of language was not just an Indian thing. In early New Ulm, German was the primary language. At some point, schools forced the kids to start speaking English.

Imagine being taken from your parents. During the late 19th to early 20th centuries, many Indian children were taken from their families and sent to government and church schools hundreds of miles from home. There they were taught that being Indian was not as good as being white. They were punished for speaking their language, or for talking about their culture. They were told that traditional spiritual beliefs were wrong. The entire boarding school experience was painful for many in the American Indian community.
—Incorrect – I have yet to find a Dakota person whose ancestors were removed from good homes and sent to boarding schools.
—Unbalanced – Where are the good stories about Indian boarding schools? The boarding schools also rescued many children from unstable, poor and abusive homes. They provided food, shelter, clothes and an education for kids who otherwise would have suffered. 

—For a more balanced look at Pipestone Indian school see:

Tipi Exhibit

 —Incorrect – This tipi is not a replica of a Dakota tipi.

 —Disrespectful – Having a video inside this tipi with a comedian doing a rendition of the “Hokey Pokey” dance as a joke is dumb. MHS misses the opportunity to discuss the functional design of the Dakota tipi, tipi etiquette and tipi items. There is a separate exhibit on the buffalo. I see no need to use the comedian talking inside the tipi about hunting buffalo. 


 [Panel] – Minnesota is a Dakota Place
Dakota people have lived in what we now call Minnesota for thousands of years. Decades of oppression and attempts at outright extermination, along with the loss of most of their traditional homelands, have not kept the Dakota from thriving. Today, the ceremonies, language, and cultural traditions of Dakota people are alive and well in Minnesota.
—Incorrect – MHS cannot prove that Dakota people have lived here for thousands of years.
—Incorrect – Who oppressed and attempted extermination of the Dakota Indians?
—Incorrect – If not for the Dakota War in 1862, there would be a large population of Dakota people in Minnesota today.

[Map] – Dakota Homelands
The Dakota traditionally lived in what today is Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin, and the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta in Canada.
—Incorrect – This map and text are confusing. Does this mean that the Dakota lived in all these places at the same time in their history? Does this mean that the Dakota lived in these different places at different times in their history?
—Incorrect – This map and text does not agree with a map on the MHS website.

[Photo] – Dakota Internment camp below Fort Snelling, 1862
In 1862, over 1,600 Dakota people, mostly women and children, were held in an internment camp at Fort Snelling. About 300 Dakota died in this camp.
—Incorrect – MHS cannot prove how many died in this camp.

[Photo] – Dakota Commemorative March, 2008
Today, marchers walk to commemorate the 150-mile forced march of innocent Dakota people women and children to Fort Snelling – part of Governor Alexander Ramsey’s policy of ethnic cleansing.
—Incorrect – The distance between Lower Sioux Agency and Fort Snelling in 1862 was about 100 miles. Today, the commemorative march to Fort Snelling is about 95% off-course. See Bakeman and Richardson, Trail of Tears: Minnesota’s Dakota Indian Exile Begins.
—Incorrect – In 1862, this group also included elderly men and women, young men and women and children.
—Incorrect and disrespectful – The U.S. government moved the Dakota to Fort Snelling. This was not Ramsey’s decision. Why is MHS disrespecting Alexander Ramsey?

[Drawing] – All treaties are revoked and the Dakota are forced out of Minnesota.
[This appears to be a winter scene. A white soldier, saber drawn, rides in a wagon in front of a procession of Indians walking in close formation. The Indians are wrapped in blankets. Only one wagon is shown. White soldiers, on horseback, sabers drawn, are riding on each side of the Indians. The soldiers ride in single file, close to each other and close to the Indians.]
—Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota were forced out of Minnesota.
—Incorrect – As depicted, this is a fictitious drawing.
—Incorrect – In 1862, there were no reports of snow along this march.
—Incorrect – There were not enough soldiers to ride this close together along the entire procession.
—Incorrect – The soldiers would not have had their sabers drawn.
—Incorrect – There would have been many wagons with Dakota riding in wagons and on horseback.

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