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Fort Snelling Shame / Star Tribune

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Protesters decry ‘shameful history’
TOM MEERSMAN, Star Tribune

About two dozen protesters, many of them Dakota Indians, blocked the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Wagon Train for about an hour Saturday afternoon as it reached Historic Fort Snelling.

The protesters said Minnesota’s 150th birthday this weekend is no cause for celebration among Indian people, whose lands were stolen from them and who endured injustice, broken treaties and imprisonment before and after Minnesota became a state.

Officials planning the sesquicentennial and historians have ignored the state’s “shameful history,” said Chris Mato Nunpa, who just retired as associate professor of indigenous nations and Dakota studies at Southwest Minnesota State University. “We’re engaged in truth telling,” he said.

He said the early history of Minnesota’s settlement by whites included bounties on Indian scalps, a mass execution in Mankato, and a “concentration camp” of Dakota women, children and the elderly at Fort Snelling during the winter of 1862-63.

“We honor those people who passed away, and we also grieve for them,” said Allan Henderson, another of the protesters. “It’s very emotional for us.”

The protesters carried signs in the rain, burned sage and beat on drums while singing, and two of them lay on the wet asphalt in front of horses pulling the first of several dozen wagons on their way from Cannon Falls to the Sesquicentennial celebration in St. Paul today.

Escorting the wagon train were about a dozen Dakota County deputies on horses, who were joined by several squads from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the airport police.

Joe Dalby of Bemidji, riding a mule at the front of the wagon train procession, watched as Hennepin officers arrested five adults and two adolescents and ushered them to squad cars. “I certainly appreciate their passion, but it’s too bad it has to end this way,” Dalby said.

After the arrests, deputies formed a line across the road and walked through the remaining protesters, allowing the wagons to pass so they could reach a special campground a few hundred yards away.

The Indian group is planning a march from Mounds Park in St. Paul to the Capitol today, where it may meet the wagon train again.

Watching the event Saturday was Heather Koop of the Minnesota Historical Society, who said that she’s sympathetic to the issues being raised. “What this protest is really about is the power of place,” she said.

Bob Dalbec of Bloomington saw the police cars from the highway, exited and parked to see what was going on. “Indians have a right to protest and to show their feelings,” he said. “I’m with them 100 percent.”

After checking the identifications of the arrested and holding them for less than an hour, authorities released them with warning tickets.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388