OPINION | Open letter to Katherine Kersten


Dear Katherine Kersten,

I read with a great deal of interest your column on “At U, future teachers may be reeducated,” Minneapolis Sunday Star Tribune, November 22, 2009.

To read the report that Kersten denounces, click here.

As a 69-year-old Indigenous person (a Dakota man, our colonizer, and inaccurate, name is “Sioux”), I was amazed at the difference in our reactions to what the U of M is doing. I think it is great that they, the U and prospective teachers, pay some attention to what really happened in this country.  Because of what happened to my people, the Dakota Oyate (“People” Or “Nation”), I certainly don’t share what I call “the White American Dream.”  As a result, I don’t really agree, either, with your statement “that in this country, hard-working people of every race, color and creed can get ahead on their own merits.”  In addition, topics like massive land theft, broken treaties, genocide, suppression of Indigenous sprituality and ceremonies, suppression of Native languages, residential boarding schools, etc. etc, do not lend themselves well to creating what U.S. Euro-Americans call the “American Dream,” at least, certainly, not for the Dakota People!

Because of what has happened in this state, I, also, don’t agree with the vision of the United States (including Minnesota) as a great, wonderful, just, moral, etc. country.  In fact, I like the way you expressed it, “America as an oppressive hellhole: racist, sexist, and homophobic.”  Because of what happened to my people, the Dakota People, in this state, I did not and do not agree with the idea of “celebration” of the Sesquicentennial, i.e, the 150th birthday of Minnesota as a state (Sesquicentennial) as in the year 2008.  We, as Dakota People, have nothing to celebrate.  It’s hard to “celebrate” the stealing of millions and millions of acres of our traditional homelands.  It’s hard to celebrate the U.S., the state of Minnesota, and its Euro-Minnesotan citizenry breaking the approximately six (6) treaties, at least, which were made between the Dakota People and the U.S. government, Minnesota, and its white citizenry.  It’s certainly hard to celebrate the bounties that your ancestors placed upon my people.  It’s hard to celebrate GENOCIDE such as:  the concentration camps,  forced marches,  forced removals (“ethnic cleansing”), the largest mass execution in the history of the U.S. (the 38 Dakota patriots who were hanged in Mankato on December 26, 1862),  the cries of “Extermination and Removal” which were uttered by Governor Ramsey, by Sibley, by the newspapers of the time (1860s), and which was part of the hate-filled words from the white citizenry.

So, hopefully, I am hoping you can understand why I might react differently than you do to the idea of “re-educating future teachers.”  For me, it is a truism that people who had their lands stolen (e.g., the Dakota People, etc.) will look at history, at education, at the U.S., “the American Dream,” etc. differently than the people (e.g., the U.S. Euro-Americans and Euro-Minnesotans) who stole the lands.  One more truism, for people (e.g., the Dakota Oyate) who had their treaties broken and who were victims of genocide will look at history and education differently than the people (U.S. Euro-Americans and Euro-Minnesotans) who broke the treaties and who perpetrated the genocide!  (Digression:  I would suspect that a people who were forced into slavery, such as the African-Americans, will look at history and education differently than the people, the U.S. Euro-Americans, who forced black people into slavery)

Also, I think it is a good idea for prospective teachers to “know themselves,” especially so for future U.S. Euro-American teachers.  Where did their values come from?  Where did their perceptions of “Other” people come from?  Where did the idea of “white” superiority and white supremacy come from?  It is good to consider such questions because these have such important, oppressive, and sometimes lethal, ramifications for not only Indigenous Peoples, Black Peoples, Asian Peoples, Spanish-speaking Peoples but also for U.S. Euro-American Peoples.

Thanks for taking the time to read my observations, which are based on 69 “winters” on Ina Maka, “Mother Earth.”