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Reconciling narratives about U.S.-Dakota War

August 25, 2012
By Josh Moniz - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - Understanding how people have passed on different stories of the U.S.-Dakota War and the need for a comprehensive version of the events was the focus of the "Reconciling Memory: Landscapes, Commemorations and the Enduring Conflicts of U.S.-Dakota War of 1862" presentation by Dr. Julie Humann Anderson at a symposium held at Turner Hall by the Brown County Historical Society.

Anderson explained that the narrative of events after the Dakota were driven from Minnesota created a bias in the way it was told. She explained that retellings were tilted toward calling the events a victory of the white settlers and using words like "massacre" to depict settlers as completely innocent victims. She said these narratives took on a permanent state by being engraved in the numerous monuments built across the Minnesota landscape following the battle of New Ulm, including several before the war was fully ended. She said that at a certain point, monuments on the U.S-Dakota War represented half of all of Minnesota's monuments, with a great deal caring this particular viewpoint.

Anderson explained that some effort has been made since reconciliation began in the 1970s. She said several monuments considering the Dakota perspective in the war have begun to be built across Minnesota, but a significant number more is needed to bring a closer balance.

She said that the best option would be the create of several large, comprehensive monuments that neither depict the settlers are complete innocent victims nor ignores the Dakotas' own involvement in the war. She said a more comprehensive approach considering both points will help create a more accurate and fair depiction of the events.

Several audience members also spoke during the comment section, noting that they had seen significant progress in a more balanced retelling of events with the 150th anniversary events. They spoke about the 100th and 125th celebration in places like New Ulm, particularly about how the older celebration had a bias closer to a victory celebration.They each mentioned how impressed they were with the progress.

Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at



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