II. Criterion (a): Killing Members of the Group

Numerous examples of criterion “(a) Killing members of the group” may be found in the weeks, months, and years following the surrender at Camp Release in September 1862. Once white blood was spilled and white supremacist attitudes quickly evolved into explicit calls for Dakota extermination, those virulent anti-Indian sentiments that were both public and commonplace provide evidence of clear genocidal intent. The actions based on those genocidal prescriptions quickly followed.

When Dakota people declared war in 1862, they did so not just against the U.S. government, but also against all its citizens. While Dakota people desired to drive the whites out of our homeland, they did not do so because of a general hatred of all white people everywhere, but because they were opposed to the white people who had invaded and occupied Dakota homeland. That is, Dakota people were against settler occupation and interference in the Dakota way of life. Still, the war effort was not supported by all Dakota people. In the midst of the war, as conversations proceeded between the anti-war and pro-war factions of the Dakota about whether to continue it, Bdewakantunwan men committed to its continuation spoke in defense of their actions. Rattling Runner, a leader of the Soldiers' Lodge and son-in-law of Wabasha, responded to efforts to stop the war saying:

I have no confidence that the whites will stand by any agreement they make if we give [the captives] up. Ever since we treated with them, their agents and traders have robbed and cheated us. Some of our people have been shot, some hung; others placed upon floating ice and drowned; and many have been starved in their prisons.

From his perspective, there was no other avenue for pursuing justice. Little Crow, the leader of Dakota resistance, also was not swayed by the anti-war contingent led by Little Paul, speaker of the Upper Dakota. Understanding the depth of white hatred for Dakota people and the previous severe punishments by white people for even trivial transgressions, Little Crow knew there would be no fair treatment for Dakota men who had chosen the path of war: “Now we have been killing them by the hundreds in Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa, and I know that if they get us into their power they will hang every one of us.” He was correct. By the next month, Americans began sentencing Dakota warriors to death by hanging.

Once Sibley had accomplished his task of quelling Dakota resistance and freeing the white and mixed-blood captives, he then worked to execute plans that shifted from standard war practices to practices that may be deemed genocidal. This is not to suggest that the warfare against the Dakota was not brutal or part of the colonial project, but it is necessary to distinguish between leading an army against an enemy during wartime, and treating enemy combatants and civilians as subjects in need of elimination by any means necessary. With surrendered Dakota people in custody, the troops separated the men from the women and children. To deceive the Dakota men into submission, the army told them they needed to be counted separately for disbursement of the long-overdue treaty annuities. Once separated, the army shackled them and tried them in an ad hoc military tribunal that remains one of the most egregious acts of injustice in the American legal system.

As legal scholar Carol Chomsky has demonstrated in her meticulous research on the 1862 trials, “the Dakota were a sovereign nation at war with the United States, and the men who fought the war were entitled to be treated as legitimate belligerents” rather than as criminals. When the tribunal had finished its dirty work, 303 Dakota men were sentenced to execution and another twenty sentenced to prison terms. As many as forty-two cases were tried in a single day, some taking as little as five minutes before condemning another Dakota man to death. Had the findings of Sibley's tribunal been carried out as intended, it would have meant the immediate elimination of an estimated one-tenth of the total male population estimated to be in Minnesota at the time of the war, and probably a third of the able-bodied men. As it was, when the thirty-eight were hanged on December 26, 1862, in what remains the largest, simultaneous mass hanging from one gallows in world history, this was a spectacular way to implement an extermination policy under the guise of legality.

This genocidal campaign may be seen as intimately intertwined with the desire for the remaining Dakota resources. As Chomsky observed, the “settlers' response to the war may also have been motivated by greed: Treating the Dakota as war criminals allowed the United States summarily to remove all the Dakota from the state, thereby opening to settlement land that the Minnesotans had coveted for years.”

Certainly, other examples of direct killing occurred in the fall and winter of 1862-1863 as the army force-marched or forcibly removed our ancestors (the women and children to Fort Snelling and the condemned men to Mankato) and imprisoned them in concentration camps. Through the Dakota oral tradition, we have accounts of grandmothers stabbed in the stomach or shot by white soldiers, babies ripped out of mothers' arms and their heads bashed on the ground, and shackled men beaten to death by angry mobs. Furthermore, as will be discussed later, there were thousands more that were killed indirectly.

In this section, however, one more example of genocidal killing that must be mentioned is the bounty system implemented in 1863. That summer, Minnesota's Adjutant General Oscar Malmros answered the call of Swisshelm and other Minnesotans who wanted to use such a system to hasten Dakota extermination. The system he devised included payment to white civilians for combing the woods in search of Dakota people to exterminate and an additional payment for each scalp those Indian-hunters could provide to the state; the corps of scouts earned $1.50 per day for their searching and an additional $25 for each scalp. By the end of the summer, the price of bounty payment had reached $200, enough to buy a 160-acre homestead in 1862.