Contested History: Waziyata Win and the Dakota

As we approach the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, it is well to remember that other people have different memories and a different sense of the history of that period than those of us who concentrate on the Civil War.  One of those events in the conflict between the Dakota and the people of Minnesota.  For many Civil War historians, this conflict appears only in references to where John Pope was transferred after Second Manassas or in President Abraham Lincoln’s decision to reduce the list of Dakota who were to be executed.  For other people, it is this conflict, and not the Civil War, that is the conflict worth discussing.  Among those people is a former colleague of mine, Waziyata Win.  She continues to be an outspoken voice for justice for her people and she raises questions that everyone might want to consider, even if they don’t agree with her.  As for the claim that she’s a terrorist, well, Waz and I are friends, and her family and my family are friends.  We’ve had our heated arguments, although there aren’t nearly as heated as one might imagine.  Some of them have to do with touch football.  I may not agree with everything she says, but she ought to be heard, and people who read this blog because they have an interest in the Civil War need to hear a different perspective on the events of this period.

For the statement in the Winona Post, click here.  For Nicholas Benike’s letter, click here.  For Cynthia Porter’s article, click here.  Use the Winona Post‘s archives search to find other pieces.

So I turn the floor over to my friend Waziyata Win:

The Winona Post initially contacted me on November 26th and gave me only a few hours to respond to the statement released by the four Dakota councilmen and asking me if Benike’s allegations were true.  They did not wait to find out my response before printing that statement, an accompanying article, and additional letters based on lies and distortions about my public lecture.  Now, they have refused to publish my response in full.  While the town of Winona is heralded as being committed to truth-telling and reconciliation, this is the most hostile treatment I have received anywhere I have lectured.  They seem to only want truth-telling and Dakota perspectives that don’t challenge or cause them discomfort.  What follows is my response to Benike, the Post, and all their Dakota collaborators.  Please feel free to circulate widely.

December 2, 2010

Strong hearts to the front, weak hearts to the back!

I tell you we must fight and perish together.  A man is a fool and coward who thinks otherwise, and who will desert his nation at such a time.  Disgrace not yourselves to those who will hang you up like dogs, but die, if die you must, with arms in your hands like warriors and braves of the Dakota!

–Taoyateduta, 1862

When I invoke the words of Little Crow, the leader of Dakota resistance in 1862, I do not do so lightly.  He is a symbol of the last generation of Dakota people who went to war in defense of our lands, our people, and our way of life.  His name and memory do not belong only to those who are his direct descendants, but to all Dakota people for whom he fought, and for all subjugated peoples everywhere who seek to release themselves from the yoke of oppression.  Like all our Dakota warriors in 1862, he was full of anger and rage at the injustices perpetrated against our people and lands by the invaders to Minisota.  He had no qualms about using any means necessary to fight for Dakota liberation. Though Little Crow is also my relative (his four wives were the daughters of my grandfather Chief Inyangmani) when I invoke his words, I do so as one Dakota woman willing to take up the struggle in defense of our lands and peoples, once again, by any means necessary.  I do not speak for anyone but myself, but I know for a fact there are others like me.

When I first heard from the Winona Post about the responses to my November 8th, 2010 presentation at Winona State University, I was disturbed by the inaccuracies reported in Nicholas Benike’s letter and Cynthia Porter’s article (from basic information such as my name to inflammatory comments like I will “give to the ‘white man’ what he deserves no matter what it takes”).  I was even more disturbed that Dakota tribal leaders would take at face value the words of a disgruntled white man without even bothering to find out what I actually said that night.  However, it is not surprising that the three people who were enraged by my lecture were all older white men.  Clearly they felt their privilege was threatened and they did not like it.  In retrospect I know that the tribal council leaders wouldn’t like my message anyway, even if they knew what I actually said, because it reflects an attitude of resistance to colonial authority.  Further, upon additional reflection, I realized that given the way the Winona Dakota Unity Alliance has operated as just another colonial entity, I could have predicted the subsequent chain of events, and truth had no relevancy to how they would unfold.  The tribal councilmen who came forward to condemn my words and actions (Roger Trudell, Wilfred Keeble, Mike Selvage and Tony Reider) did not need the truth, all they needed to know was that the white men in Winona felt threatened by a Dakota woman and they had to rush to their rescue.  But, how could I have predicted this?

Divide and conquer tactics are as old as colonialism.  In the context of Indigenous populations in the U.S., white colonizers work with those they deem “good Indians” to become collaborators against those they deem “bad Indians.”  This is how they diminish and suppress resistance efforts.  It’s an old story.  In fact, I had just explained this colonial dynamic to several members of the Unity Alliance after my presentation at Winona High School earlier that same day.  In the case of my evening lecture at WSU, a few members of the Alliance were offended by an uppity Dakota woman (that’s me) and called on their “good Indian” men to collaborate on leading an attack against me.  Lucky for the white colonizers, they have cultivated their collaborators carefully and Leonard Wabasha (playing the same traitorous role his ancestor did in 1862) obliged them, helping to rally support from other Dakota tribal councilmen (at least some of whom, if not all, have been on the payroll of the Alliance) to attempt to silence or suppress a Dakota woman speaking about justice and defense of Dakota homeland.  This is classic colonialism and these leaders have chosen the role as collaborators.  How embarrassing…for them.

Through this experience my beliefs about the Winona Dakota Unity Alliance have only been confirmed.  In seeking to exploit divisions within the Dakota community, they have only proven themselves as colonizing agents.  Paying Dakota people once a year to sing, dance, pray and story-tell on demand before sending them back to their homes in exile is not an act of justice or friendship.  When the Alliance works to dismantle the fundamental colonial relationship instead of seeking to protect the colonial status quo, maybe they will serve a legitimate purpose.  Why Dakota people would settle for anything less is beyond me.

To the male Tribal Leaders (and Tall Bear) who are concerned about my anger, consider this—after 147 years since our forced expulsion:

Our land is still under occupation.

Most of our people still live in exile.

Dakota people are still prevented from practicing basic freedoms (even access to sacred sites).

All of the systems and institutions to which we are subject are colonial in nature and they all prevent us from living freely as Dakota people.

We hold a fraction of 1% of our original land base in Minisota and our populations would die if we had to subsist on those small parcels of land.

Our populations still suffer from high rates of early mortality, suicide, and violence.

We suffer tremendously from Western diseases (alcoholism, cancer, diabetes).

We live in a society that continues to justify our extermination and non-existence while glorifying perpetrators of genocide and rationalizing land theft.

And, we have largely, silently witnessed the destruction of our homeland through extensive mining, logging, manufacturing, energy production, industrial agriculture and animal feedlots.

90% of the wetlands have been destroyed.

98% of the Big Woods of southern Minisota are gone.

98% of Minnesota’s white pines are gone.

Every year now about 90 million pounds of pesticides are dumped on soybean crops.

Another 50 million pounds are dropped on corn crops.

Companies like Monsanto have patented and genetically modified seeds, threatening even our traditional corn planting within our homeland.

The entire hydrology of the Minnesota River Basin has been altered due to drain-tiling.

Coal-burning and nuclear power plants toxify our lands and waters.

Our rivers are so polluted we cannot even swim in them, let alone drink their waters or eat the fish without risking our health.

This society is killing our homeland.

Millions of acres of federal, state, and county lands are preserved for colonizer interests and purposes while Dakota people are still denied our land base.

Furthermore, not a single generation of white Minnesotans has worked toward meaningful justice for Dakota people yet they benefit daily from our dispossession.

All of these things make me angry.  If they don’t make you angry, what is wrong with you?  Have you forgotten our obligations to our homelands?  Why is it more important for you to appease white people than to work in defense of our land and people?

Never mind, I know the answers.  I have heard them all before.  You have businesses to run and money to make.  You have succumbed to the belief that we cannot fight for our land and people because the United States government is a permanent entity, it is way too powerful, and we simply cannot stop the march of progress.  So we must just get along the best we can, seeking our fair share of the economic pie.

Some of us have not been so suckered.  Actually, one of the things I spoke about that night in Winona was global collapse.  Regardless of anything I have said or done, or what any Indigenous person in the U.S. has said or done, the American way of life is coming to an end.  Given the realities of peak oil and peak debt, we are simultaneously facing the collapse of a civilization based entirely on cheap oil and the collapse of the American economy.  This coincides with growing crises emerging from global climate change and collapsing eco-systems due to hyper-exploitation.  Everything Dakota people have been told about the superiority of Western civilization is a lie, as is everything we have been told about progress and technology.  We have experienced a unique period of global history only possible because of fossil fuels, and that era is about to come crashing down.  From my perspective, it is no coincidence that we are experiencing the re-birth of the Dakota nation at the same time this civilization is coming to end.  This means there will be unprecedented opportunities for Dakota reclamation. But, because of the destruction to our homelands that continues every single day (including the loss of entire species and the collapse of ecosystems), it is in the best interest of everyone to put a stop to this civilization as soon as possible.  Every day we wait means our future survival is increasingly threatened (and this applies to Dakota and non-Dakota people alike).

It is in that context that I talked about everyone attacking infrastructure in response to a question from the audience that night in Winona. I, for one, am not interested in propping up the government and society that exterminated our people and stole our lands and I don’t have much respect for the Dakota people who seek to defend them.  I am not interested in protecting the most violent and exploitative government in the world.  I am interested in seeing it come down as quickly as possible.

While I never advocated violence against the “white man” as some kind of payback as Benike accused, like my ancestors, I am not a pacifist.  I know that the first response of this colonizing government is to bring guns whenever our people gather to defend our lands, so I would never rule out the use of violence as a viable resistance strategy against oppression.  Colonized people have a right to strike back at those who have perpetrated the kinds of crimes that white settlers perpetrated against Dakota people and those who would continue to deny us justice.  White Minnesotans are hardly morally positioned to condemn any acts of violence given the monumental and heinous crimes against humanity their ancestors perpetrated so that they could lay claim to our lands and resources, and given the extent of violence current populations are still perpetrating against our lands and people.  Indigenous people defending our lands, or rights to our lands, are not terrorists.  We are the first patriots of the land in the truest sense of the word.  That this threatens colonial domination in our homeland is simply the nature of the beast.  This is the messed-up world Americans have created.

I do not represent the views of tribal councilmen anymore than they represent mine.  But, they are woefully out of touch with the younger generations if they believe I am the only one discussing resistance, resurgence, and reclamation.  There is a movement underway and it is growing despite their acquiescence to white society.  They will have to decide if they will stand with us, or side with white Americans to attempt to protect the status quo.

From this it should be clear that I offer no apologies for anything I actually said that night in Winona.  I see a different future than the one prescribed for me by white society.  The age of American empire is ending.  The oil is running out.  Capitalism is failing. The playing field is about to be levelled.  Revolution is coming.

Waziyatawin, Ph.D.

Pezihutazizi Otunwe (Yellow Medicine Village)

Minisota Makoce

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6 thoughts on “Contested History: Waziyata Win and the Dakota

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  2. Her defiance is admirable, but her understanding of America as is, is highly questionable.

    There is no colonial relationship between the United States and Native American tribes today. Capitalism isn’t failing. America arguably isn’t in decline or near some catastrophic political fall out.

    It seems Waziyatawin is stuck in the 70s Red Movement. I don’t see any difference in what she is saying and what was said by Red Movement leaders in the 60s and 70s, i.e. “fight the government, fight the white people, arm yourselves to throw off the U.S. government” (I paraphrase some of what was said).

    Not all Natives feel this way though… probably a good majority don’t. So I think she fails in seeing that there is no serious neo-Red Movement about to take off. It’s more like one person’s Sisyphean attempt of completing destroying the world in which they live… which can’t be accomplished alone, and especially when many Native Americans will not join you in pushing that stone up that hill.

    The Dakota War of 1862 and Wounded Knee (among much else) happened, and its probably time Waziyatawin come to terms with this. And to possibly better reflect on her own Dakota history and not just the history of American expansion into Sioux territory.

    Of course I believe she shouldn’t be silenced. She should be allowed to speak and express her views. People can judge her views for themselves, I think.

  3. Pingback: A new blog and new journal for 2011 « Civil War History

  4. This is a very powerful post. Also, I had no problems following it. Waziyata Win is a very courageous woman and a credit to her people.

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