Fort Snelling, U.S. imperialism and the Dakota People


Recently, Saturday, May 29, 2010, I participated in a March to and a Rally at Ft. Snelling.  The slogan for the event was “Take Down the Fort  An Icon of U.S. Imperialism.”  There are several reasons which indicate why I participated, and they are discussed, not necessarily in order of importance.  I might add, also, that I speak as a Dakota man, from a Dakota/Indigenous perspective.  I am what our People call an Ikce Wicasta, a common man, a natural man, a man of the earth.

One reason for my participation is that the fort, including Ft. Snelling, symbolizes IMPERIALISM (emphasis mine).  One of the definitions, that I use, of imperialism is  “a total system of foreign power which penetrates, transforms, and defines a land, its people, and its resources for purposes of domination and exploitation.”  The first article, of three articles in the Treaty of 1805 between the Dakota Oyate and the United States, provides for the building of a fort.  The U.S. now wanted to invade the lands of the Dakota People.  Therefore, the U.S. wished to build a fort (which is now Ft. Snelling) in the Upper Mississippi River valley to establish dominance. 

Up to 1800, the United States, and the thirteen (13) colonies before them, had invaded, conquered, settled, exploited, and killed most of the Indigenous Peoples east of the Mississippi River, and now were going to invade, steal, kill, and occupy the lands of the Dakota People, Mini Sota Makoce, “Land Where the Waters Reflect the  Skies, or Heavens” (or Minnesota).  This invading, stealing, exploiting, and killing began and continued right up to the resistance of the Dakota People, the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862.

Another reason for my participation in the 5/29/10 event is that the fort symbolizes GENOCIDE.  One of two concentration camps in Minnesota was located at Ft. Snelling (the other, for the Dakota men, was at Mankato, MN).  1,700 of our People, primarily women, children, and elders, were imprisoned here during the cold Minnesota winter of 1862-63, and hundreds were killed here.  Most of these non-combatants trusted the U.S. government and the Minnesota military to take care of them, as had been promised.  Instead, these innocent citizens became victims of Genocide.

One of the five criteria in the 1948 UN Genocide Convention says, basically, “deliberately imposing on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part.”  Each of the five criteria, by itself, is Genocide.  Jack Weatherford in his book, NATIVE ROOTS, describes the Concentration Camp as the gathering up a non-combatants, citizens, and “concentrating” them in a specific geographic location (viz., Ft Snelling), and holding them there for protracted periods of time without charging them with any crime”.  Ft. Snelling is a SITE OF GENOCIDE!!!!   (Mankato is a SITE OF GENOCIDE!)

What the Wasicu (the Dakota term for the U.S. Euro-American, the white man) were doing and celebrating on Saturday, May 29, 2010, would be similar, hypothetically, if the Germans and Nazis were to celebrate what happened at Auschwitz.  The U.S. Euro-Americans , as they were dressed in period costumes, firing off the cannons, etc., were celebrating the GENOCIDE of the Dakota People and were celebrating the concentration camp, which institution Hitler learned from the United States and Minnesota and used with the Jews, Gypsies, the physically handicapped, et. al.  Just as Jews might be offended if such a hypothetical celebration, e.g., brown shirts goose-stepping, swastika flags, etc. were held at Auschwitz, so are the Dakota People and other Indigenous Peoples similarly offended, and greatly so, at the REAL “celebration” on Sat. 5/29/10.

Also, under the administration of Governor Alexander Ramsey, there were bounties, $25 at first, then raised to $75, and finally to $200, which sum was considered an annual salary back in the 1860s.  In addition to the concentration camps (mentioned above), and the BOUNTIES,  there were FORCED MARCHES,  WAR (Extermination or Removal, a savage phrase uttered by Governor Ramsey many times, as a justification for killing Dakota People),  MASS EXECUTIONS (the hanging of 38 Dakota men at Mankato, MN on Decembers 26, 1862),  and FORCED REMOVAL (“ethnic cleansing,” the removal of the Dakota People from the ancient homelands).   All of these acts each fulfill one or more of the criteria for GENOCIDE and they most definitely constitute GENOCIDE!

            A third reason is that the fort, including Ft. Snelling, symbolizes MASSIVE LAND THEFT.   The fort housed the soldiers (the fort, also, an instrument of war).  The U.S. Euro-American settlers invaded, stole, and occupied the Dakota lands.  And, I might add that these “settlers” themselves were excellent and efficient killers  of Dakota People, as well.  When the Dakota People resisted the land theft, and would defend their homelands, themselves, and their way of life, the soldiers would then be called upon to kill the Dakota. The overall purpose of these soldiers from the fort was to either exterminate or kill the Dakota, as Governor Ramsey, the newspapers of the day, the military commanders (e.g., General Pope, etc.) and the white settlers were calling for.  Then, after the Dakota were either killed or removed, then, the settlers (the land-theft perpetrators) could safely steal the lands.

There are other reasons why I participated in the March and Rally at Ft. Snelling.  However, because of the constraints of space, I will mention only the three I have discussed.  These topics I have mentioned and the terminology I have used are not discussed and used by the U.S. Euro-American historians of U.S. History and Minnesota History.  They have deliberately suppressed or distorted the TRUTH!  It was time to tell the TRUTH in 2008, the 150th birthday of Minnesota as a state, but the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS), the Sesquicentennial Commission,  colleges and Universities, etc. did NOT talk about these things.  Again, it will be time to tell the TRUTH in 2012, the 150th commemoration of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862 (which U.S. Euro-American historians have called the “Sioux Uprising of 1862”).  Hopefully, they will!

It is NOW time to Tear Down the Fort  An Icon of U.S. Imperialism!!!!


Chris Mato Nunpa, Ph.D., RETIRED    

Dakota, Wahpetuwan, “Dwellers In the Leaves”

Pezihuta Zizi Otunwe, “Yellow Medicine Community:     

(BIA Name, “Upper Sioux Community”)