In speaking of the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, the Dakota speak of Bdote, “where two waters come together.” This particular Bdote is extremely significant to the Dakota people as the center of the earth and the heavens. It is described by indigenous nations scholar Chris Mato Nunpa as the place of genesis as well as genocide for the Dakota.
December 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the tragic events at the military concentration camp in Mankato, Minnesota: On the day after Christmas, 38 men were hanged in the largest single-day execution in American history. This event was part of the larger Dakota War of 1862, which witnessed the internment of more than 1,500 Dakota people who suffered losses of nearly 300 individuals during the winter at the concentration camp at Fort Snelling.
Construction of Fort Snelling began in 1820 and marks the beginning of the settlement of the area now known as Minneapolis-St. Paul. Operated by the military for 125 years, the fort served as training grounds from the Civil War through World War II. Fort Snelling State Park was established in 1962 to protect open space and the fort was Minnesota’s first designated National Historic Landmark.
Even in Minnesota, the stories of the Dakota at Fort Snelling and in Mankato are not well known. With this upcoming anniversary, more people are being exposed to these important events. The multivocal, oral tradition of the Dakota continues to be important as seen on the online bdote memory map that employs many voices to tell the story of the Dakota’s continued existence here.
Fort Snelling sees more than 400,000 visitors a year but the monument itself is more a testament to military strength rather than a memorial to those who died there. Can we expect our national monuments to fully articulate the deep and sometimes tragic details of the complex American past?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.