III. Criterion (b): Causing Serious Bodily or Mental Harm to Members of the Group

The second criterion is “(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.” While bodily harm is most readily apparent in all of the examples used in criteria (a) and (c) in which people are killed outright or conditions are created to cause their destruction, the “mental harm” component of this criterion is more difficult to assess. Rather than focus on bodily harm in the discussion of criterion (b), I will emphasize the mental harm, considering both historic and contemporary perspectives of Dakota people and also bearing in mind how I have observed and experienced the mental harm that is the legacy of this traumatic period in our history, including the mental harm of colonization.

A statement from resistance leader Sakpe, or Little Six, offers a poignant metaphor for the shackles of colonization. Sakpe fled to Canada after the Battle of Wood Lake, but along with Medicine Bottle, was kidnapped, drugged, bound, and dragged across the border and handed over to Major Hatch and brought to Fort Snelling for trial. Like hundreds of other Dakota men, Sakpe was sentenced to death by hanging, as was Medicine Bottle. As he was awaiting execution, he observed a train passing near the fort and exclaimed to Colonel Robert McLaren:

“Look there--see that--that settles our fate; over these lands my father was once undisputed chief, and over those hills I once rode free upon my horse, and now,” pointing to the chain about his waist, “look at this,” and pointing to the chain running from his waist to his foot, “and this”--and scanning himself all over, “and these rags.”

His shackles represented the transformation from a state of freedom, to a state of unfreedom, or bondage. Sakpe and Medicine Bottle were lynched in front of the round-tower at Fort Snelling on November 11, 1865. Afterwards, Sakpe's body was shipped to a medical college in Philadelphia for display.

The shackles of colonization were manifest in a myriad of ways. The sense of superiority combined with growing military might meant that the U.S. government had the power to exert its will over Indigenous people and lands, leaving few options or recourse for Indigenous populations whose lands were the objects of desire. Thomas Galbraith, the Indian Agent at the time of the war, believed himself to be carrying out benevolent work, though his position itself is a colonial offspring and driven entirely by a colonial agenda. In his 1863 report, for example, he wrote:

By my predecessor a new and radical system was inaugurated practically, and in its inauguration he was aided by the Christian missionaries and by the government. . . .

The theory, in substance, was to break up the community system which obtained among the Sioux; weaken and destroy their tribal relations; individualize them by giving each a separate home, and having them subsist by industry--the sweat of their brows; till the soil; to make labor honorable and idleness dishonorable; or, as it was expressed in short, “make white men of them,” and have them adopt the habits and customs of white men. This system, once inaugurated, it is self-evident, was at war with their “ancient customs.” To be clear “the habits and customs of white men are at war with the habits and customs of the Indians.”
By his own admission, in implementing the government's civilization program, missionaries, agents, and government worked hand-in-hand to wage war against Dakota culture and ways of life.

Big Eagle, in describing factors contributing to Dakota dislike of the whites, outlined concerns about the treaty negotiations and terms unfulfilled by the government, the traders' corruption and thievery, the abuse dispensed to Dakota women, and the attempt to force Dakota people to live as white men. While all of these are just causes for dissatisfaction and anger, for this discussion I am particularly interested in the “civilizing” efforts. Big Eagle explained:

If the Indians had tried to make the whites live like them, the whites would have resisted, and it was the same way with many Indians. The Indians wanted to live as they did before the treaty of Traverse des Sioux--go where they pleased and when they pleased; hunt game wherever they could find it, sell their furs to the traders and live as they could.

The kind of cultural loss stemming from the government's systematic efforts at eradication is still reverberating in our communities.

In his letters attempting to quiet calls for mass extermination, Bishop Henry Whipple suggested that the government's mistake in dealing with Dakota people from the start was by treating with them as sovereign nations rather than as the “heathen wards” we were in his eyes. He blames the government for leaving Dakota people “without a government,” since our “rude patriarchal government” was “weakened and often destroyed by the new treaty relations,” and “ [n] othing was given to supply the place of this defective tribal government.” In other words, the government's civilizing campaign either did not institute an American-style government quickly enough or, more likely, did not bring Dakota people more forcefully into the folds of the existing U.S. system. Just as other white Minnesotans could not escape their own colonizing lenses, Whipple was brimming with his own ecclesiastical brand of white supremacy. This allowed him to maintain blindness to the anguish caused from white attacks on what Dakota people perceived to be a beautiful culture. Today as we struggle desperately to pull our language back from the edge of extinction and recover our land-based knowledge, many of us feel nothing but fury toward those who, with such success, have diminished our culture and way of life.

The constant cultural attacks before, during, and after the war were exacerbated by the very real, physical losses suffered over and over again as the war moved from a military engagement to one of genocide. Traveling Hail, chief speaker for the Bdewakantunwan at the time of the war, described how the soldiers facilitated the breakdown of the people, saying:

At Redwood [October-November 1862] they took all the young and smart men and put them in prison, and they took all the chiefs and women and children and put them in Fort Snelling. They done with us as they would grain, shaking it to get out the best, and then brought our bodies over here; that is, took everything from us and brought us over here [Crow Creek] with nothing.

Common among the people is still a sense that the government took everything from us, leaving us with nothing. Furthermore, the “by any means” attitude of the government meant that white Minnesotans would perpetrate horrendous crimes against humanity to eliminate our population. For Dakota people, that means that we possess distressing memories from every site of genocide--moments when the horror of loss was so great as to seemingly scar the people permanently. Inevitably, when I write or think about 1862, it becomes overwhelming, as each aspect of the war has its own particular horror and heartache.

Imagine the sense of disempowerment felt by the women who could not feed their children and the men who could not find justice with a government immune to Dakota suffering.

Imagine the uncertainty and confusion felt by whole communities as the government sought to break them apart, eradicating the culture that held the people together.

Imagine the sense of fear and exhaustion felt by the grandmothers and mothers wearily carrying the littlest children as they marched under gun and bayonet point toward Fort Snelling in November 1862.

Imagine the anxiety felt by Dakota men condemned to die who must have thought each day might be the day they would hang.

Imagine the sense of crushing disappointment felt by the women and children at Fort Snelling when they saw their beloved men passing by on steamboats on their way to Davenport, but were unable to reach out to them. Imagine the women wailing, flinging themselves to the ground, and pulling their hair in grief.

Imagine the sense of vulnerability and violation felt by a whole generation of Dakota women subject to the most demeaning forms of sexual violence by white soldiers--soldiers who used their control of food to force our women with hungry families into sexual servitude.

Imagine the shame felt by the men who were powerless to stop this rape of Dakota women and girls.

Imagine the sense of hopelessness felt by children raised in concentration camps.

Imagine hunger so intense--an outcome from the punitive expeditions that left thousands of Dakota people without stores of winter food--that parents sold their children to families in Canada so they might live.

And, imagine the inconsolable grief caused by the loss of a homeland where our people had lived since the beginning of time.

The sense of loss and grief is still so palpable in Dakota communities--as are the accompanying reactions of anger and rage--that even 150 years later, it feels like many of these events occurred in the recent past. The crimes perpetrated against Dakota people in the aftermath of the war are still with us, our land is still under occupation, our people still live in exile, and our culture is still under threat. Every day we live the legacy of this history. And we continue to remember. For example, for more than twenty-five years, men, women, and children have gathered at midnight on Christmas night to run through the winter cold for the thirty-eight lynched in Mankato in 1862. Since 2002, Dakota people have walked 150 miles in honor of the women and children force-marched to Fort Snelling. Every generation continues to pass on the stories of 1862 in our oral traditions. Something in our hearts compels us continuously not just to remember, but also to memorialize these crimes against humanity.