Toward the end of the American Civil War, U.S. settlers found themselves in yet another fight, this time against the Dakota people.
While Americans typically view these conflicts from the perspective of the settlers, the Rice County Historical Society is letting someone else tell the story at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
The speaker is a Dakota man named Todd Finney. He is leading a free lecture that will provide a recounting of the conflict from a Dakota perspective. The Dakota people are one of the many cultures that have traditionally passed down generations of oral history.
Rice County Historical Society Executive Director Sue Garwood said it is important to hear this side of the story.
“Nobody else around can tell what that experience was like, because there’s been nothing written about that,” said Garwood. “At least, not in the narrative, first-person perspective.”
Due to the complicated events leading up to and following the U.S.-Dakota War, Finney will focus his lecture on one specific group: the Dakota 38.
Following the war, 303 Dakota men weren’t given a fair trial in what some historians have called “kangaroo courts.” They weren’t provided with a lawyer and many of the trials lasted for just a few minutes. All were found guilty.
Though President Abraham Lincoln exonerated 265 of the Dakota men sentenced in, 38 remained on death row. The exonerated men, with their wives, children and elders, were sent to concentration camps in Fort Snelling, where many of them died.
The men who went on to be hanged in Mankato are now known as the Dakota 38. Garwood said she feels this will be a valuable insight for people to understand what the Dakota went through.
“You can’t know a story, if you only listen to half of the narrative,” she said. “You can guess. You can make some insightful and well-informed statements about what their experience is. But it’s never as deep as it is when it’s a personal experience.”
She gave her thoughts on the trust needed for any Dakota person to publicly share their perspective.
“It’s not easy for a Dakota person to tell of the U.S.-Dakota War and all that happened there,” she said. “There’s a lot of emotional toll in the process and to trust that he’s going to be in a safe space for people to hear that.”
She went on to explain, because Alexander Faribault was part-Dakota, there have always been eager ears in Faribault. But the Dakota were justifiably worried about telling their side of the story, even with as long as it has been.
“But the trust had to go in both directions,” she said. “That’s perhaps what we’re most excited about. That Todd is willing to share his stories. We’re so deeply honored by that.”
During a speech that Garwood gave recently at the Paradise Center for the Arts, which outlined the history of the First Nations of Rice County, she revealed that the elders of the Dakota recently gave their blessing for Finney to share the Dakota’s side of the story.
“It’s still a very hierarchical tribe … and he needed to speak to his elders,” Garwood said. “They had a prayer circle about him speaking in Faribault and they said, ‘It’s time for people to start to know more. We think that you, as the young people, are the ones who have the energy to tell. It’s time.’”