Genocide and Concentration Camps
© January 14, 2016, John LaBatte
Updated on July 17, 2016
“…we owe it to those who died and suffered to tell the truth, and we owe it to future generations not to lie to them.” (Treuer, 32)
What is genocide? Did anyone commit genocide in 1862-63? Which standard for genocide should we use: 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention or 1998 Rome Statute?
What is a concentration camp? Were there any concentration camps in 1862-63?
Raphael Lemkin was a Polish-Jewish lawyer. When Germany invaded Poland, he escaped, eventually reaching the United States. He needed a word to describe Nazi atrocities in his 1944 book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. He coined the word “genocide” from the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing). He lobbied the early sessions of the United Nations to have “genocide” added to international law. On December 9, 1948, the United Nations approved the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.”
(USHMM, “Coining a Word and Championing a Cause: The Story of Raphael Lemkin”)
1948 United Nations Genocide Convention
Article 2 of the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide” states, “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
(Human Rights Web, “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”)
The Dakota Indians and Allegations of Genocide
In my reviews, I have found more than fifty allegations that the United States, State of Minnesota and Minnesota citizens committed genocide against the Dakota Indians. All of these allegations rely on the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention definition. Many allegations are exaggerated. If these allegations are truly genocide, hostile Dakota Indians also committed genocide against the whites. My comments follow each allegation.
1. No one claims that Dakota civilians were killed during the 1862 Dakota War.
However, it is a fact that hostile Dakota killed more than 550 whites; some in the worst way imaginable. Was this genocide? (Dahlin, 7)
2. In the Dakota Camp at Camp Release, the men were separated from the women and children. Later, the men were moved to Mankato and the women and children to Fort Snelling. Later, the men were moved to Davenport, Iowa and the women and children to Crow Creek, Dakota Territory. When the genders are separated, there can be no procreation. This is “flatly and intentionally genocidal.” These actions were committed by the state of Minnesota and the U.S.
The United States made these decisions to separate the men and women. The State of Minnesota did not. In the cases mentioned above, most of the men were separated to be tried and punished, not to prevent procreation. (Anderson and Woolworth, 233)
During the Dakota War, 108 whites were taken captive by hostile Dakota. Of these 108 whites, only 4 were men. Men made up about one-third of the general settler population. One-third of 108 is 36. What happened to the other 32 men? If the United States committed genocide by separating men and women, hostile Dakota also committed genocide. (Anderson and Woolworth, 225)
3. On November 7-13, 1862, Minnesota citizens forced-marched 1,700 Dakota women and children 150 miles from the Morton area to the concentration camp at Fort Snelling. Dozens of grandmothers were killed on this death march. We do not know how many women and children were killed. We do not know how many children and elders succumbed to violence, hunger, cold, disease, despair, and terror. We do not know how many Dakota women were raped along the 150 miles. This forced-march is state-sponsored Genocide!
The United States made the decision to move the Dakota to Fort Snelling. They were not forced-marched. About 1600 elderly, young women, young men and children were taken to Fort Snelling. They traveled about 100 miles from the Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling by way of Fort Ridgely and Henderson. Good Star Woman stated that “Some Indians died from the beatings they received.” It cannot be proven that “dozens of grandmothers were killed.” It cannot be proven that any women were raped. (Marz and Osman, 114) (Anderson and Woolworth, 263) For more information on the Dakota marches to Fort Snelling and Mankato, see (Bakeman and Richardson).
Had the United States waged a traditional Dakota war of extermination, all of these Dakota men, women and children would have been killed at Camp Release.
During the Dakota War of 1862, at least 270 white and mixed-blood hostages were taken by hostile Dakota. They were force-marched to camps at Chief Little Crow’s village, Upper Sioux Agency and Camp Release. They certainly experienced the same trauma as the Dakota taken to Fort Snelling. Two Dakota men were later convicted of rape. If the march to Fort Snelling was genocide, the forced-march of the white and mixed-blood captives was also genocide.
4. There were concentration camps at Fort Snelling, Mankato, Lower Sioux, and Crow Creek.
For more on concentration camps, see below. If these were concentration camps, then the camps holding the hostages of the hostile Dakota were also concentration camps.
5. At the Fort Snelling concentration camp, there wasn’t adequate food, shelter and there was a lot of sickness and illness. 300 Dakota died at Fort Snelling from starvation malnutrition and disease.
If any died of starvation, it was because they refused to eat. It cannot be proven that any died of malnutrition. Disease was the major cause of deaths.
It cannot be proven that 300 Dakota died at Fort Snelling. The official army record stated that 102 Dakota died. Author Monjeau-Marz estimated that as many as 300 died. This is an estimate; not a fact. Monjeau-Marz gave two warnings of this: “Discovering the total Dakota mortality experienced at the Fort Snelling encampment from their arrival in November 1862 through May 1863 is difficult to quantify and sadly will remain inexact” and “Sadly, the actual mortality suffered by the Dakota will remain unknown.” There are people who exaggerate this situation by using 300 as a fact.
In a later article in Minnesota Heritage Magazine, Monjeau-Marz lowered this estimate to “250 or more.” But, she again warned, “the actual mortality suffered by the Dakota [is] an unknown quantity.” (Monjeau-Marz, 56), (Monjeau-Marz and Osman, 123)
6. On December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota warriors were hanged in Mankato. This was the largest mass execution in United States history.
This was punishment for what some call “war crimes” or “crimes against humanity.” There was at least one white and several mixed-bloods among these 38. By my count, they were implicated in the murders and rapes of at least 99 civilians. This was not the largest mass execution. In Gainesville, Texas, 40 men were hanged in 1862. (Ojanpa)
7. In April 1863, the State of Minnesota and its citizens forcibly removed the Dakota women and children from the Fort Snelling concentration camp to Crow Creek, Dakota Territory. Many were killed by hunger, cold, thirst, and despair, as well as by violence.
The decision to remove Dakota men, women and children from the Fort Snelling internment camp was made by the United States. Not all of the Dakota were removed from Fort Snelling to Crow Creek. Some were taken to Faribault and others became scouts for the United States Army. The families of the scouts remained in Minnesota. (Anderson and Woolworth, 274)
Crow Creek was a terrible place. “The three hundred deaths that occurred during the first few months were due largely, said the missionaries to the lack of suitable food and clothing.” Was this genocide? (Meyer, 147)
8. About 400 Dakota men were imprisoned in the concentration camp at Davenport, Iowa for three years. Approximately, one-third of the men were murdered there, dying of violence, hunger, cold, disease, despair, and terror.
272 Dakota men were taken to Davenport. A total of 61 died from disease, the only cause of death. (Bachman, 296, 301) These men were found guilty in Sibley’s trials. Was this genocide?
9. Governor Ramsey and the Minnesota State Legislature offered $200 bounties for the scalps of Dakota People. Ramsey declared that “the Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.”
Hostile Dakota had just killed more than 650 whites (civilians plus soldiers); some in the worst way imaginable. Hostile Dakota were returning to the state and killing civilians. Ramsey’s statement was rhetoric. Rhetoric is not genocide.
Five scalps were taken. This included Chief Little Crow who was killed the day before bounties were offered.
At the start of the Dakota War in 1862, Chiefs Cut Nose and Little Six vowed that they would spare no white men. Chief Little Crow told one group of warriors that they would spare no white men. A bounty was offered for the scalp of Louis Robert. (Diedrich, 208) Prior to the Battle of Wood Lake, Little Crow offered rewards to the men who killed the first two whites. (Diedrich, 232) On September 22, 1862, Little Crow’s Soldiers’ Lodge offered rewards for the scalps of Henry Sibley, Joseph R. Brown, William H. Forbes, Louis Roberts, and Nathan Myrick. (Anderson and Woolworth, 222)
If the actions of Governor Ramsey and the State of Minnesota were genocide, the actions of the Hostile Dakota were also genocide.
10. In 1863, the punitive military expeditions of Sibley & Sully killed hundreds of Dakota men, women, children, and elders in the areas now know as South and North Dakota.
Hostile Dakota were returning to Minnesota and killing white civilians. It was necessary to show the hostile Dakota that they were not beyond reach in Dakota Territory. This subject needs further examination.
If this was genocide, then the mass-murder of more than 550 white civilians by hostile Dakota during the Dakota War of 1862 was also genocide.
Some Dakota activists use the terms “genocide” and “concentration camp” to evoke images of Nazi Germany. There is no comparison. “The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.” For more information on the Holocaust, see:
First International Charges of Genocide
In 1993, in response to massive atrocities in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the United Nations Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It was the first international criminal tribunal since Nuremberg and the first to prosecute the crime of genocide. A year later, in response to violence in Rwanda, the Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Nearing the completion of their mandates, both of tribunals have contributed detail, nuance, and precedent to the application of the law of genocide. (USHMM, “Introduction to the Definition of Genocide”)
The Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court (ICC)
The Rome Statute, an international treaty, was ratified on July 17, 1998. It established the ICC to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. It reconfirmed the definition of genocide stated in the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention. It added articles for “Crimes against Humanity” and “War Crimes.”
Article 7 – Crimes against humanity states:
“For the purpose of this Statute, “crime against humanity” means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:
(d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population;
(e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;
(g) Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;
(i) Enforced disappearance of persons;
(j) The crime of apartheid;
(k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.”
(United Nations, “Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court”)
Genocide vs. Crimes against Humanity
According to Gary Clayton Anderson, in Ethnic Cleansing and the Indian: The Crime That Should Haunt America, “Genocide will never become a widely accepted characterization for what happened in North America, because large numbers of Indians survived and because policies of mass murder on a scale similar to events in central Europe, Cambodia, or Rwanda were never implemented.” (Anderson, 4)
The United Nation’s definition of genocide in 1948 was too broad. The Rome Statute…provided new definitions. According to Anderson, “Europeans and later Americans who committed general acts of dispossession against Indians – or even “eliminatory” acts – would likely face the charge of “ethnic cleansing” as defined in Article 7.”
The ICC has yet to convict anyone of genocide. (Anderson, 5) The Rome Statute requires a “high level of evidence” to prove genocide. According to Anderson, “…the best term for what happened to Indians throughout this four-hundred-year period is “ethnic cleansing” not “genocide,” as it is defined today…For genocide…to occur, prosecutors must first prove that a “policy” authorizing such an action has been adopted by a government or a governmental agency…Convictions for crimes against humanity…are much easier as evidenced by the many convictions of the past decade.” (Anderson, 6)
Regarding genocide, Anderson states, “…the number killed are not as important as whether a policy existed and what it intended to accomplish – indeed “intent” is crucial to conviction.” (Anderson, 12) Anderson continues, “…it must be a concerted effort to kill large numbers of people or indeed to annihilate a given people – nearly all people of a particular group in a given region…It is almost impossible to make the argument that American Indians suffered genocide …at the hands of the…United States.” (Anderson, 13)
Today, some call the 1862-63 Dakota camp at Fort Snelling a concentration camp. This is done to evoke images of Nazi concentration camps.
An essay on the USHMM website states, “The term concentration camp refers to a camp in which people are detained or confined, usually under harsh conditions and without regard to legal norms of arrest and imprisonment that are acceptable in a constitutional democracy.”
“The first concentration camps in Germany were established soon after Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in 1933…By the time the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939…there were six concentration camps in the so-called Greater German Reich:”
Germany built more concentration camps after the start of World War II.
“The concentration camps increasingly became sites where the SS authorities could kill targeted groups of…enemies of Nazi Germany. They also came to serve as holding centers for…forced laborers…the SS authorities continued to deliberately undernourish and mistreat prisoners incarcerated in the concentration camps. Prisoners were used ruthlessly and without regard to safety at forced labor, resulting in high mortality rates.” (USHMM, “Concentration Camps, 1933-1939”)
By definition, the Dakota camp at Fort Snelling could be called a concentration camp. But, the term “concentration camp” also includes Nazi concentration camps where people were brought to be worked, undernourished, mistreated and killed. The Dakota camp at Fort Snelling was a place where people were brought to stay alive.
For more information on concentration camps:
For more information on the Fort Snelling Dakota camp:
(Monjeau-Marz) and (Monjeau-Marz and Osman).
Many allegations of genocide committed by the whites are exaggerated. To claim that genocide occurred, the lies have to be removed from these allegations so that only the truth remains. The Rome Statute must be the guide to determine if genocide was committed. Genocide is very difficult to prove. If genocide was committed by the whites against the Dakota in 1862-63, then genocide was also committed by the hostile Dakota against the whites.
The Dakota camp at Fort Snelling was not a concentration camp. If it is called a concentration camp, then the camps of hostages held by the hostile Dakota must also be call concentration camps. Naming the camp at Fort Snelling is telling the visitor what to think. Describe the camp truthfully and let visitors decide what sort of camp it was.
Anderson, Gary Clayton. Ethnic Cleansing and the Indian: The Crime That Should Haunt America. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014.
Anderson, Gary Clayton and Woolworth, Alan R. Through Dakota Eyes: Narrative Accounts of the Minnesota Indian War of 1862. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988.
Bachman, Walt. Northern Slave Black Dakota: The Life and Time of Joseph Godfrey. Bloomington, Minnesota: Pond Dakota Press, 2013.
Bakeman, Mary Hawker and Richardson, Antona M., Editors. Trails of Tears: Minnesota’s Dakota Indian Exile Begins. Roseville, Minnesota: Prairie Echoes Press (Park Genealogical Books), 2008.
Dahlin, Curtis. Why the Hatred. Roseville, Minnesota, 2013.
Diedrich, Mark. Little Crow and the Dakota War. Rochester, Minnesota: Coyote Books, 2006.
Human Rights Web
“Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”
Accessed on January 6, 2015
Monjeau-Marz, Corinne L. The Dakota Indian Internment at Fort Snelling, 1862-1864. Prairie Smoke Press, 2005.
Monjeau-Marz, Corinne L. and Osman, Stephen E. “What You May Not Know About the Fort Snelling Indian Camps,” Minnesota’s Heritage…Back to the Sources. January 2013.
Meyer, Roy W. History of the Santee Sioux: United States Indian Policy on Trial. University of Nebraska Press, 1993.
Ojanpa, Brian, “Maybe we’re not No. 1 after all”, Mankato Free Press, Sat Aug 18, 2012
Treuer, Anton. Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but Were Afraid to Ask. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2012.
Codification Division, Office of Legal Affairs
“Website of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court”
Accessed on January 9, 2016
“Rome Statute Overview”
Accessed on January 9, 2016
“Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court”
Accessed on January 9, 2016
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM)
Accessed on January 3, 2016
“Coining a Word and Championing a Cause: The Story of Raphael Lemkin”
Accessed on January 3, 2016
“Concentration Camps, 1933-1939”
Accessed on January 3, 2016
“Introduction to the Definition of Genocide”
Accessed on January 3, 2016
“Introduction to the Holocaust”
Accessed on January 3, 2016