Truth telling 150 years later

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A new history of the US – Dakota War of 1862 makes its debut in October at a time and location still to be announced.

They are three documentaries put together by Sheldon Wolfchild, a Dakota who lives at the Lower Sioux Agency in southern Minnesota.

Part one is already on view at the Lower Sioux Interpretive Center near Morton. It explains what Wolfchild regards as the real causes of the US – Dakota war of 1862. Part two, he says, will go even further back into history explaining the roots of, “manifest destiny.” Part three is a collection of voices of elders talking about Dakota culture.

That’s Wolfchild in the photo above taken last month by Minnesota Public Radio’s Jeff Thompson at the Minnesota History Center exhibit.

My profile of him can be heard this afternoon at 4:50 p. m. during All Things Considered on Minnesota Public Radio news stations around our region.

His connection with the war is through his great great grandfather, chief Medicine Bottle, one of the combatants in the conflict.

Wolfchild’s message is — the Dakota people didn’t cause the war.

Yes, starving Dakota attacked white settlers and the result was hundreds of Dakota and white settlers killed in the war.

Then hundreds more Dakota perished as they were banished from Minnesota to barren reservations in Dakota territory.

What caused the war, Wolfchild says, was the Indian system.

William Lass, emeritus professor of history at Minnesota State University in Mankato, says early in this country’s history government officials created an Indian system which successive generations of officials knew was corrupt, but nearly everyone kept using because of the obscene profits it returned.

The system included deceitful treaties with Indians, agents and traders swindling them out of money promised them, and court decisions denying Indians ownership of their land which created a pretext for their removal.

The Indian system was based on the view that the conquering European newcomers had sovereignty over the native people.

I first met Wolfchild at a screening recently at the Parkway theater in south Minneapolis where he was showing part one of the three documentaries..

The 65-year-old Wolfchild moved back to his birthplace at the Lower Sioux Agency in 1997 after retiring from 30 years of work in California as an artist and actor.

You can see him in Disney’s Squanto: The Warrior, and in Dances With Wolves.

Wolfchild is a friendly, courtly, soft spoken guy.

Until he turns, “rambunctious,” as he puts it.

A “rambunctious,” Wolfchild fixes the listener with a penetrating gaze. His voice turns to a growl as he lists the injustices perpetrated by the Indian system and his disappointment with the media for not telling the full story.

Wolfchild isn’t acting in this role. His anger is real. And he admits that recurring trauma from his military stint in the Viet Nam war is likely linked to trauma of being a member of a minority group that has for generations endured discrimination.

Then he apologizes, his voice softens, and his gentle demeanor returns. However, Wolfchild is on a mission, and it’s clear he won’t rest until he’s satisfied the truth telling is completed.

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