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Give Back Our Land: U.S. Must Honor Treaties With Dakota

My fifth Great Grandfather was Chief Black Dog also known as Big Eagle. his original village was and is located near the mouth of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. BDOTE (as our ancestors called it, “the center of the earth”), where the rivers meet in Minneapolis and St Paul. This November 11, at 12 noon, will mark the 150th year since two Dakota men, Medicine Bottle and Little Six, were hung in 1865 at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis. Medicine Bottle was my Great-Great-GreatGrandfather.

I am a Vietnam Veteran. After the war I was guided back to healing through our ceremonial ways, and have been gratefully following that path for many years now, which is why I have to write this letter with as much respect and reverence as possible.

It’s unfortunate if Mr. Lee and others have found our historical research and documentation troubling and offensive. Mr. Lee writes about good Indians and bad Indians, and says that it was the churches, the settlers and the U.S. cavalry that divided us. True, but only under the authority of the U.S. Congress and U.S. government which he never mentions at all in his letter, unfortunately.

Mr. Lee talks of “loyal” or “friendly” Mdewakanton, but where did these labels originate? He and others may be interested to know that congressional language is one source of this wording. I would suggest all first nations and peoples research this document: 25 U.S.C. United States Code, 2010 Edition Title 25 - INDIANS (CHAPTER 3 - AGREEMENTS WITH INDIANS ) SUBCHAPTER 1 TREATIES Sec. 72 - Abrogation of Treaties ( from the U.S. Government Printing Office, www.gpo.gov).

That information will explain the amendment created by the U.S. Senate and sent to the House of Representatives (R.S. 2080, derived from the act July 5, 1862, ch. 135, 1, 12 stat. 528). Please note that this act, which allowed for the abrogation of Indian nation treaties in the event of an Indian war, was passed on July 5th 1862. It was never brought to the attention of our Dakota Chiefs and Headman in July or August, before the war of 1862 precipitated by our people being starved by U.S. governmental officials refusing to distribute food to them from a locked food storage warehouse.

The U.S. government had an obligation to inform our people that the U.S. had given itself permission to unilaterally abrogate Indian treaties in the event of a war, even if the U.S. had caused the events that sparked the war. For our Dakota nation to be so informed was part of treaty law at that time. Why did the U.S. government not tell our people? This is another reason Mr. Lee and others should not be blaming their own Dakota people; but we in our Dakota way forgive them.

The lawsuit we have filed has been based on one thing from the very beginning: Makoce Kin (The Land). The Traditional Dakota, our ancestors, always believed that the land upon which everyone walks is sacred because of how it was created by our creator, as the old ones say. The land is the foundation of what we are trying to preserve for the future of our children, our rights and their rights as Dakota, rights to a spiritual way of life which have been denied to our ancestors, to us, and to our children.

Greed has no place in our Dakota belief system, which, unfortunately, is a mentality that has been brought up in Mr. Lee’s letter. I can understand why he may think like this as the powers that be in Indian Country want the public to believe this, which is thinking based on the mainstream dominant society system of economics.

Our choice of Makoce Kin (The Land ) is our foundation and like our Dakota ancestors of old, we still are defending our rights to our sacred Dakota land. The history and research in contemporary times by way of this lawsuit is forcing the state of Minnesota to retrace past history and is re-educating the public. For this reason the Dakota people still have hope for a better future.

Another important issue is repatriation: I am calling for the repatriation of the ancestral remains of the 38 Dakota who were hung, along with Medicine Bottle and Little Six (the “plus two”). The following text is taken from the St Paul newspaper of November 1865 concerning the hanging of my grandfather Medicine Bottle, and Little Six:

The mortal remains of Little Six and Medicine Bottle are by this time being dissected in a medical hospital in Philadelphia. Soon after the execution the bodies were removed from the coffins and in their places were put stones of about the same weight. They were then hurried down to a drug store in the city, packed in alcohol and shipped east. In the meanwhile the coffins, with the supposed remains were deposited with all due formality and solemnity in the Post’s cemetery. The cadavers of Little Six and Medicine Bottle are doing duty in the anatomical surgery department at the Jeffersonian medical college at Philadelphia.

We are calling on the Thomas Jefferson medical college to repatriate the ancestral remains of Medicine Bottle and Little Six. Meanwhile, we will continue to remember. I know this for sure. The Dakota 38 plus 2 would want our rightful place on the Makoce Kin (The Land) recognized and restored. Let us all watch and see what the Minnesota Historical Society and the Dakota Nation and others do to bring about a respectful memorial for Medicine Bottle and Little Six, two Dakota ancestors.

In closing, for historical education not only about the Dakota History but about the effects of 500 years plus years of colonization which has destructively impacted all first Peoples and Nations, please watch an up documentary that I and others have just completed. It is titled “The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code.” It will be released this spring. See 38 PLUS 2 PRODUCTIONS.com. Let us educate ourselves rather than blame our own people.

Sheldon Wolfchild (Mdewakanton Dakota), former Tribal President at the Lower Sioux Reservation in Minnesota, is a documentary film maker.