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Wolfchild, authors mull ‘Indian System’

Calls for return of sacred land

August 17, 2012
By Fritz Busch - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - A Dakota filmmaker/director called for the government to give back 27 1/2 acres of federal land where the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers meet so the Dakota can build an interpretive center on "sacred land" to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War this year.

Sheldon Wolfchild, of Morton, said the Dakota asked for the land, which includes the last natural spring in Hennepin County and a legally-recognized sacred site also known as Coldwater, in 2005, but the National Park Service (NPS) refused.

According to the Friends of Coldwater, the Park Served clear cut around the spring and reservoir and bulldozed into earth mounds and used Roundup to eliminate emerging oak trees and sage in the (Minneapolis-St. Paul International) Airport Safety Zone where it said no new trees may be planted.

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Sheldon Wolfchild has produced “Star Dreamers Part I, The Indian System,” the first of three documentaries he is creating to tell the Dakota side of what led to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

"It would be a wonderful gift if it would come back to us this year," said Wolfchild, when asked about Dakota sacred sites after showing "Star Dreamers Part I, The Indian System," the first of three documentaries he is creating telling the Dakota side of what led to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

"Historians portrayed Indians as ignorant people to justify their means," Wolfchild said.

Rochester author Mark Diedrich, who appears often in Wolfchild's first documentary, said Henry Sibley came to Minnesota from Pennsylvania to manage the fur trade.

"He was deeply in debt and expected to bail out his business here," Diedrich said. "Gov. Alexander Ramsey wanted to limit the amount of money traders would get from Dakota treaties, but Sibley wanted no limits on claims that could be made on government payments to the Dakota. He became a very rich man because of that."

Dr. David Nichols of Southwestern University, Fort Riley, Kan., said it was politics, greed and power that caused the U.S.-Dakota War.

"The Indian System was a great money machine that helped finance the development of the American West," said Nichols. "It was a pathway to power for Sibley and Ramsey, much like big government has been since that time."

He added that hundreds, maybe thousands of Dakota died in the aftermath of the war including Wolfchild's great-grandfather Wakanozhanzhan, Medicine Bottle, and Sakpedan, a Chief Shakopee or Little Six, who were kidnapped in Canada by British agents in January 1864, drugged and carried to Fort Snelling where they were convicted of war crimes by a military tribunal, sentenced to death and hung.

On top of that, the night after they were hung, the bodies of Medicine Bottle and Shakopee were dug up by doctors in a Fort Snelling cemetery and packed with alcohol, according to a November 1865 St. Paul Pioneer Press account later reprinted in the Dec. 27, 1905 edition of the Redwood Gazette.

Wolfchild said Medicine Bottle's remains were dissected in St. Paul while Shakopee's body was dissected for research in the Jeffersonian Hospital in Philadelphia.

"I just learned about this a few weeks ago," Wolfchild said. "I'm asking for help in finding the remains of these men and getting them back home. If these men's bodies are not buried properly, their spirits will not rest in peace."

Wolfchild said part 1 of his documentary will be shown at the Fort Snelling State Park theater in September.

"The French are also interested in showing the documentary," he said. "On a recent trip to a Paris museum, I was shown three buffalo hides that were given to French fur traders and have been in the Paris museum since 1710."

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at



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