I just got back from attending the showing of the Dakota 38 documentary that was here at SJU. The film has been shown all across the state this week with a discussion following it led by the person whose dream ultimately led to the ceremonial ride the documentary is on, Jim Miller, as a way to make this deep dark secret of Minnesota history known a little better. There were 2 basic reasons why I attended the showing, though the second less prominent than the first (and you may count the fact that the Peace Studies department co-sponsored the event as a very minimal third reason, though as far as I could tell I was the only person actually connected to the department at the showing).
The first reason is simply as it is important for all Minnesotans, but really all Americans, to learn about and keep in mind this history. Relatively few people are aware of this history, it is not talked about or in history books, yet it was the largest mass execution our government has ever carried out to date, that took place in Mankato, MN. To say that this history means nothing to you today, maybe you’re from a majority white (or even with a significant black presence) community and are not (knowingly) around Native Americans day to day, but you’re still a part of our society. We did this back in 1862 (the day after Christmas of all days) as a society, and so you have an obligation to at least acknowledge, if not dig deeply into (say, by watching this documentary if you haven’t seen it yet by following the link in the first sentence of this post), the history of the land you lovingly call home.
The second, less prominent, reason for attending the showing was as one of a given number of intercultural events to attend for the Intercultural Communications course I’m taking this semester. The single deepest thing this documentary drove into me for that context is that it isn’t enough to just understand someone else’s culture as it stands in the present (which itself is a cultural construct) to aide in communicating with them. You must understand, and appreciate, their history. Not in a vacuum, mind you, but rather as it interrelates and interconnects with your culture and history. We really don’t know what it is to be Minnesotan, or really American, without grasping the truths about what we have done to those we have displaced (largely, in this context at least, Native Americans). You simply cannot understand where someone from a different culture is coming from, and hence communicate with them appropriately, unless you have a complete and truthful (so from their own perspective, not yours) painting of their history.
Just two reflections trailing from the two reasons that led me to attend tonight’s showing that I invite you (especially if you’ve seen the documentary) to reflect on yourselves. I want to thank Jim Miller and the documentary crew for revealing our own history when it crosses their path by sharing this spiritual journey with us. You teach us some of what the grade school textbooks refuse to. And with this reflection out of the way I can now get ready for bed.