The past is never dead at Fort Snelling

By Jan Dalsin

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” as William Faulkner wrote. I was not deliberately thinking of this quotation on February 5, 2011, when I again stood in the circle of peoples around the fire, honoring the memory of of those Dakota women, children, and older men who in November of 1862, were force-marched across southern Minnesota to the fenced-in camp below the bluff on which sat Fort Snelling.

I was remembering those people, the hardships and cruelty they suffered from the treatment they received from the military personnel, the harsh Minnesota winter, the illnesses for which they had no immunity nor reserves to resist — the on-going trauma of the events of the summer of 1862 etched into every fiber of their bodies and spirits.

In re-membering these people, acknowledging their presence in the circle with us on February 5, I was also re-membering a little four-year-old girl, whose German immigrant parents had been counseled by Dakota acquaintances to seek shelter from the warfare about to break out . . . A four-year-old girl who is my mother’s father’s mother — my great-grandmother–and whose presence also I could feel there in the circle.

We are standing on holy ground, I was thinking, ground blessed by the blood and bones of those who perished here in the winter of 1862-1863. On holy ground, witnessing to the deaths of the people, and the deaths of the dreams of the people. On holy ground, honoring the losses, the grief–individual and collective. And on holy ground, pregnant with the hope that our gathering for these ceremonies, this re-membrance, will bear witness to our commitment to truth-gathering; to listening to, honoring and being with, people’s stories; and to seeking circles that lead to the healing of the historic trauma which we all carry within us. These, then, were some of the thoughts going through my mind, during the ceremonies on February 5th at Fort Snelling State Park.  In this place the past was truly not dead. It was very much alive.

I also thought of the words of Waziyatawin who wrote about Fort Snelling:  “It is as though the walls of Historic Fort Snelling exist not only in physical form but in the minds of people. If nothing else at all happens these are the walls that need to be torn down.” She went on to say: “It is time we take down all the forts, literally and metaphorically.”

We need to share more stories. We need to take down all the metaphorical forts. One hundred fifty years of methaphorical forts around the reality of what happened before, during, and after 1862-1863, are 150 years too many for the Dakota, Minnesotans, and citizens of this country.

And if, in the sharing of the stories, the uncovering of the truth of what has happened over the centuries of domination of one people over another, we discover that the healing of the historical trauma that sits within each of us–oppressed and oppressor alike–depends upon literally taking down the fort, this Fort Snelling, what would keep us from jumping at the chance?


The past is never dead at Fort Snelling — 2 Comments

  1. Bob Brown was there in Spirit. As I listened to Chief Arvol Lookinghorse talk it brought tears of pain on the suffering of those that were held at Ft. Snelling. I learned that day, 2000 Ho-chunk were held as well. The true history of the Ft. needs to be told and retold so those that suffered never lose their place in history. The pain is there and will always be there. Let us not forget those that suffered for the 7th generation.
    Tell the truth….

  2. Wish I had known about the event.
    I want to alert Bruce and other readers of a performance I am creating that gives reactions to the 1862 event, as well as tells stories about many mixed blood peoples living in Mdote area 1840-1860. Bottineau Jig: Untold Tales of Early Minnesota, chooses Pierre Bottineau as the central figure in order to tell the tales of others in his world. I will blog about those folks on my website.
    Friday April 1, 7:30 pm
    Saturday April 2, 7:30 pm. Book now- only two shows and small theater!
    Where: Intermedia Arts Theater
    2822 Lyndale Ave. South
    Mpls. MN
    Tickets: $15, $12 children under 12
    Phone: 24/7 Ticket Hotline: 1-800-838-3006
    Bottineau Jig: Untold Tales of Early Minnesota
    Welcome to a world of French, Ojibwe, Dakota, mixed-blood, Swedish, Yankee, and African peoples, that is pulsating with dance, music, and many languages! Pierre Bottineau, French-Indian/ Metis forefather of both Minneapolis and St. Paul, lived in a racially blended world not seen again until recent years. Witness an historic jigging and fiddle contest of the 1840’s! We are joined by Larry Yazzie as Little Crow, Metis fiddler Eddie ‘King’ Johnson and jigger Ricky Thomas, both of Turtle Mountain Reservation, ND. Kenna Cottman will play Marguerite Bonga, an African-Ojibwe woman and Henry Sibley’s Dakota spouse. Post -show discussions on multiracial identity, past and present

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