Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Fort Snelling State Park Visitor Center
Reviewed on April 20, 2013
Updated on March 17, 2016
Items of Interest
This exhibit was installed about 2001. DNR let Dakota people decide on content. Assistance in spelling the Dakota language for this exhibit and determining the spelling of Dakota names on the concentration camp list was provided by the Dakota-English Dictionary Project (DEDP).
- Names of locations and Dakota people are changed. There needs to be a group of representatives from the Dakota communities that decides on Dakota names and on spelling. Were descendants consulted before their family names were changed?
Most Objectionable Statements
Wokiksuye k’a Woyuonihan Remembering and Honoring
This memorial honors the sixteen hundred Dakota people, many of them women and children, who were imprisoned here at Fort Snelling in the aftermath of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota Conflict.
—Incorrect – More than 1600 were interned here. —Incorrect – This was not a prison camp.
—Incorrect – Presently the correct term is the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. At least 130 died during the cold winter months of captivity.
—Incorrect – DNR cannot prove how many died here. In May, 1863, the survivors from the camp were crowded aboard steamboats and taken to Crow Creek in southeastern South Dakota.
—Incorrect – Not all were taken to Crow Creek.
Bdo-te Sacred Homeland of the Joining of Two Rivers
—For more information on Bdote see “Definitions” on the top bar.
For the Bdewakantunwan Dakota people, this place is where the world began. Here at Bdo-te [Mendota], where two great rivers join together, here Ina, our mother the earth, gave birth to our ancestral grandmother and grandfather. The land is wakan, sacred.
—For more information on Bdewakantunwan see “Definitions” on the top bar.
—Incorrect – For many years, Lake Mille lacs was our creation place. Stating that Mendota is our creation place is a recent change to Dakota history. Changing the place of creation damages Dakota Indian history.
Treaties and Troubles
In 1805 Zebulon Pike and Dakota leader Little Crow met on what is now called Pike Island and negotiated the first treaty in Minnesota history between the Dakota and the U.S. government. For $200 in trade goods, Pike received rights to 100,000 acres surrounding the confluence of the St. Peter (now Minnesota) and Mississippi Rivers.
—Incorrect – Which Little Crow negotiated this treaty?
—Incorrect – Others besides Pike and Little Crow were involved.
—Incorrect – This treaty also included land at the mouth of the St. Croix River.
—Incorrect – It is not possible to determine how many acres were ceded.
—Incorrect – By terms of the treaty, it was $2000 in trade goods.
Reservation boundaries were redrawn many times. As treaties were broken, Dakota lands were reapportioned and opened for white settlement.
—Incorrect – Which reservation boundaries were redrawn many times?
—Incorrect – Who broke which treaties?
—Incorrect – The Dakota reservations were opened to white settlement because Dakota violated the Treaties of 1858 and went to war.
The U.S. Constitution recognizes treaties as the supreme law of the land.
—Is this correct? Treaty promises, however, were rarely kept by the government. Indigenous people have endured centuries of inconsistent and unfair policies.
—Incorrect – These statements require more explanations.
O-ce-ti Sa-ko-win – Seven Council Fires
The Dakota Oyate (nation) is made up of three main groups, each with its own dialect and homeland. These groups are divided traditionally into Seven Council Fires.[Council Fire names and definitions are given]
—Incorrect – The names of these Seven Council Fires and their definitions differ from other organization charts. DNR should work directly with the federal recognized Dakota communities to obtain the proper names, spellings and definitions.
Names Tell a Story
Mi-ni is a Dakota word meaning “water.”
—Incorrect – This spelling of Mi-ni varies from other sources. What is correct?
Dakota Conflict Concentration Camp
[Photo] – “The Dakota Conflict Concentration Camp in 1863”
—Incorrect – The term “concentration camp” is used because it evokes memories of the Nazi concentration camps. People were brought to the Nazi concentration camps to be exterminated. People were brought here to survive. This was an internment camp.
Nearly 300 died during the long months of captivity.
—Incorrect – Another panel states that at least 130 died here. DNR cannot prove how many died.
The U.S. – Dakota Conflict was the culmination of nearly a century of enforced change for the Dakota people. Pushed off their lands as whites moved into the region, by the 1850s they were confined to small reservations and under heavy pressure to give up their culture and religion. Reacting to broken treaties, greed, and injustice just as any other people would react, many Dakota felt by August, 1862, that they must fight for their traditional way of life. In the six weeks of conflict some five hundred white settlers and soldiers and an unknown number of Dakota died.
—Incorrect – Subtract 100 from 1862. This says that about 1762, they were being forced to change. Who was enforcing changes on the Dakota people in 1762?
—Incorrect – They were not “pushed of their lands.”
—Incorrect – At a combined total of 10 x 150 miles, these were not small reservations.
—Incorrect – They were not confined to these reservations.
—Incorrect – Who was putting “heavy pressure” on them to give up their culture and religion?
—Incorrect – Causes of the Dakota War were many and more complicated than this.
—Incorrect and unbalanced – The majority of the Dakota leaders and Dakota people opposed war with the whites.
—Incorrect – More than 650 whites were killed. Is DNR saying that this was justified?
—Incorrect – About 145 Dakota were killed.
In May, 1863, the surviving thirteen hundred people from this concentration camp were crowded aboard two small river steamers and taken down the Mississippi and up the Missouri rivers to Crow Creek in southeastern South Dakota, a “dismal drought stricken place” that was soon dotted with Dakota graves. Those who survived were uprooted again three years later, when most were moved to Santee Reservation in Nebraska.
—Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota were removed.
—Incorrect – This was not a concentration camp.
—Incorrect – They were not uprooted from Crow Creek. They were saved from Crow Creek.
[Photo] – Little Crow’s wife and children in 1863. “Those old photographs have an eerie quality…[They] show us the birth of an institution, the beginning of a whole new social practice of concentrating innocent civilians into an area and imprisoning them for protracted periods without charging them with any crime. The British used the same type of camp to intern Boer women and children during their war in South Africa. By the middle of the twentieth century, the concentration camp had spread virtually around the world. The French used them in Algeria, the Germans constructed them in Europe, and the Russians built them in Siberia.” – Jack Weatherford, Native Roots
—Incorrect – It is incorrect to make this comparison to much worse camps.
A Long Oral Tradition Preserves History, Culture
Until recently Indian history was not written down. The stories were passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth in a careful, deliberate process.
—Incorrect – There is much Dakota history that was written down.
Very early, the Indian boy assumed the task of preserving and transmitting the legends of his ancestors and race. Almost every evening a myth, or a true story of some deed done in the past, was narrated by one of the parents or grandparents, while the boy listened with parted lips and glistening eyes. On the following evening, he was usually required to repeat…The household became his audience, by which he was alternately criticized and applauded. – Charles Eastman, Indian Boyhood
—Incorrect – This quote was written about 1902, about Eastman’s childhood 30-40 years previous to this date. Without a date, the quote makes it sound more current. Oral history should be regarded the same as written history. There is good and bad.
The Dakota names for the months show that the people measured time by seasonal changes. [Display of months, Dakota names for the related moons and their translations]
—Incorrect – Dakota names for moons differed. These were not the only names.
Remembrance and Reconciliation
A memorial disk commemorating the 125th anniversary of the Dakota Conflict Concentration Camp was dedicated on this site in 1987. The pipestone circle honors the memory of those who suffered here. Its presence helps heal the grief still felt by descendants of these people and opens a door of reconciliation for all peoples.
—Incorrect – Not all descendants of those who were here are still grieving.
—Incorrect – Reconciliation means different things to different people. What does it mean here?
How Wabasha Saved His People
In the 1700s, Rattling Leaf lived near Winona in one of sixteen Dakota villages along the Mississippi River.
—Is this correct that there were 16 Dakota villages along the Mississippi River?
—Is this correct that Wabasha’s name was Rattling Leaf? I can find no evidence of this.
[After a fur trader was killed, Rattling Leaf went to Montreal and offered his life in exchange so that the fur traders would return. His life was not taken and eventually the traders returned.] When Rattling Leaf and his friends got back to their camp, the word had already spread that he had done this deed. So from that day on they praised him and called him Wapahasa or “Red Cap.”
—Did DNR check with the Wabasha descendants on this change to their family name? —Is this correct that Wapahasa translates to “Red Cap?”
The Stories Must Be Told Even if the Truth Hurts
There are a lot of stories about when they were rounding up the people and bringing them to Fort Snelling. The soldiers brought the people through the town of Mendota…the townspeople were so cruel. They went up on their roofs and threw boiling hot water on them, and they had pitchforks and things like that, and when they walked by, they would stab them.
—Is this correct? – I have seen no other sources that tell this story.
…when they were marching the Dakota people to the camp at Fort Snelling, one woman who had a baby sat down on a rock. She was tired and she needed to nurse her baby. One of the soldiers came by and told her get up and walk…She said that she had to feed her baby and that she needed to stop there to tend to her baby’s needs. And the soldier grabbed the baby out of her hand, grabbed the baby by the feet, and smashed the baby’s head on the rock. “There,” he told her, “now you have no reason to be staying here.”
—Is this correct? I have seen no other sources that tell this story.
The Story of the Gate in the Stockade Around the fort Snelling Internment Camp
When they brought the Dakota people into the stockade, they stripped them of all the things they had…But one elderly Dakota man had a little hand drum, and he snuck it in with him…So he snuck out his little drum and he started singing. And they said that gate – even though it was tied with an iron chain – that gate opened up. The chain was busted, and the soldiers got scared…the soldiers came and closed the gate again. But they say too that was part of the reason why the people were loaded into the barges and taken away, because the soldiers and the missionaries were afraid of the Dakota people.
—Is this correct? If the Dakota had this much power, they would have won the war.
Dakota Conflict Concentration Camp
[List of Dakota who were in the Fort Snelling Internment camp]
—Spellings on some of the names have been changed. Were their descendants consulted before making these changes?