Native American Art Exhibit Recalls Dakota War of 1862

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On Aug. 17, 1862, bands of eastern Sioux (also known as eastern Dakota) joined in armed conflict along the Minnesota River against the United States. Called by several names, primarily The Dakota War of 1862, the struggle arose due to the government’s treaty violations and Indian agents’ late or unfair annuity payments, increasing starvation and misery among the Dakota.

A mass execution signaled the conflict’s end: On Dec. 26, 1862, 38 Dakota warriors were hung in Mankato, Minnesota.

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This Friday, an art exhibit of 20 Native American artists opens to recall this conflict on its 150-year anniversary. “Ded U≈ãk’u≈ãpi-We Are Here Art Exhibit” greets the public at Minneapolis’s All My Relations Arts, a gallery whose mission “honors and strengthens relationships between contemporary American Indian artists and the living influence of preceding generations, between artists and audiences of all ethnic backgrounds, and between art and the vitality of the American Indian Cultural Corridor.”

These are the 20 artists featured in the exhibit:

Joe Allen, Angela Babby, Karen Beaver, Todd Bordeaux, Julie Buffalohead, Avis Charley, Gordon Coons, Jim Denomie, Michael Elizondo Jr., Evans Flammond, Charles Her Many Horses, Dakota Hoska, Henry Payer, Charles Rencountre, James Star Comes Out, Maggie Thompson, Jodi Webster, Gwen Westerman, Dwayne Wilcox and Bobby Wilson.

Joe Kimball in the Minnesota Post quotes Dakota artist and scholar Gwen Westerman Wasicuna, who described the exhibit:

With a stunning mix of humor and anger, hope and despair, this collection expresses the array of complicated responses to a brutal history. While the 38 executed Dakota are prominent, other essential aspects of culture and tradition are also present, including the strength of Dakota women, the role of horses and honor, and the ever-present landscape of the homeland. Whether incorporating new interpretations of traditional forms of beadwork, winter counts, and horse masks, or employing diverse contemporary techniques in glass, found objects, and photography, the messages here are as diverse as the artists themselves.

The stories depicted contribute to a broader understanding of the impact of these historical events and the power of art to tell a difficult story. Abstract, realistic, and representational, these pieces help us see the transformative capacity of trauma and healing, destruction and regeneration, and above all, representation and memory.

The exhibit will run through Sept. 28 at the gallery, then move to the James J. Hill House Gallery in St. Paul from Oct. 13 to Jan. 13.

The Minnesota Historical Society is a partner in the exhibit. Since June 30, the Minnesota History Center has been offering “The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862” exhibit, which features documents, images and artifacts related to the war.

The government’s treaty violations and agents’ late or unfair payments to the Dakota had continued throughout the 1850s. By mid-1862, Indian-trader negotiations on payments had reached an impasse. On Aug. 17, a Dakota hunting party killed three white settlers. By that night, a Dakota council voted to attack settlements throughout the Minnesota River Valley and drive the settlers out.

For months, battles continually occurred with settlers, then the U.S. Army. By December, over 1,000 Dakota were captured and interned in jails. The Dec. 26 hanging of 38 Dakota, on a single scaffold platform, is the largest one-day execution in American history.

In April 1863, the government expelled the Dakota from Minnesota to Nebraska and South Dakota. Congress abolished their reservations.