Speaker suggests rethinking U.S. – Dakota relations

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Dr. Robert W. Galler (right) gave a presentation on the history of the Crow Creek Tribal Schools Wednesday evening.

NEW ULM — Dr. Robert W. Galler gave a presentation on the history of the Crow Creek Tribal Schools Wednesday evening.

The presentation was part of the commemoration of the 156th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War.

Galler’s presentation was titled “Rethinking U.S.-Dakota Relations into the 21 Century.” He explained that when discussing U.S.-Dakota relations the focus is often on the events taking place during the violent fighting and warfare 156 years ago.

“In New Ulm the focus is on conflict,” Galler said “But most of history isn’t conflict.”

Galler’s presentation focused on the collaboration between Dakota and whites in the aftermath of the war. He assured the audience he did not want to whitewash history.

“People of different groups do come into violent conflict, but they can also cooperate,” he said.

The Crow Creek Tribal School is located in on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. Following the U.S. – Dakota War in 1862 most the Dakota people were removed from Minnesota and went to South Dakota. Many chose to stay on the Crow Creek Reservation, but by the 1880s many of the Dakota tribal leaders saw white settlers coming into South Dakota and they worried about being forced off the land again.

Documents of the time from Dakota tribal leaders indicate many were concerned about how to handle the influx of settlers into South Dakota. A few leaders thought it would be wise to align with Roman Catholic missionaries.

A tribal leader named Bull Ghost favored working with the Catholics because he viewed them as honest people. In addition, the priests who came to South Dakota did not have families, which diminished the concern they were coming to steal land.

The Catholics wanted to build schools on the reservation to better convert the Dakota to Christianity, and the Dakota wanted to learn English language and customs to better negotiate their system of government.

The Catholic-run Crow Creek School opened May 1, 1887. Its start was humble. There were only 24 students. For the first few years it was uncertain if the school would last.

The school survived thanks to input from the students and parents. Many of the Dakota students would send letters to benefactors. Katherine Drexel, who would later be named a saint, donated to the school.

The Dakota parents would even help with construction of the buildings. This gave the Dakota people influence and stake in the Catholic school.

By the 1890s, things began to look bleak. There was an economic recession, federal money stopped being sent to the school, and some of the Catholic priests started to be recalled. The school survived after tribal leaders petitioned the U.S. government to send a portion of treaty stipulation to schools. The support from the tribal leaders and students convinced many Catholic priests to stay at the school.

In the 1930s, the school struggled through the Great Depression, but was able take advantage of New Deal Programs.

By the start of WWII, the Crow Creek School was firmly established. Their boys basketball team went to the state finals in Mitchell. Several students joined the war effort. A student named Edmund St. John served as a Sioux code talker in the Pacific.

Following WWII, there was a new generation of priests working in the school more supportive of native culture. It was around this time the first Indian clubs began forming. This change would continue through the 1960s, and by the 1970s the Catholic leadership transitioned the school from a Benedictine school to a tribal school, which it remains to this day.

Galler said that today, the Crow Creek High School still struggles with problems faced by other high schools. Funding and supplies are a challenge.

Galler said the goals of Crow Creek are different. One of the goals is to teach students about their culture and who they are in addition to the traditional reading, writing, math and sciences.

“It is a very community-minded school,” he said.

Galler closed by reminded the audience that this week we are commemorating a series of violent acts, but he encouraged them to think of what happened after. He views the story of Crow Creek School as an example of native ingenuity, influence and assertion of a people looking forward.

The commemoration of the U.S.-Dakota War will continue throughout the week. The next speaker, Dan Munson, will give a presentation on the financial outlook of the war. The presentation starts at noon in the Brown County Historical Annex.

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