- What Does Justice Look Like? The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland
Justice, according to Waziyatawian, the historian formerly known as Angela Cavendar Wilson and holder of an endowed chair at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, is long overdue for the Dakota peoples whose traditional homelands lie within the contemporary state of Minnesota. The author's exploration of justice for the Dakotas' historic and contemporary sufferings under American colonialism is intersected by her account of state planning for the Minnesota Sesquicentennial (2008), the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the historical displacement of the Dakotas first by their traditional enemies, removed Ojibway bands, and then by wasicu (white) settlers. The author, not unlike many Native scholars and community people, refuses the persistent American denial of the history of horrors committed against indigenous peoples and calls for "truthtelling" to correct the accepted historical narrative. Conspicuously absent from her discussion about settler colonialism is a pervasive Christian presence in the colonization of the Dakotas and the mission to civilize Indians by destroying their religions and cultures. Ultimately, justice requires the acknowledgment of a bloody and callous history, the return of Dakota homelands to the Dakota people, and, for this author, a public acknowledgment of that history by tearing down Fort Snelling, a symbolic reminder of nineteenth-century atrocities against the Dakotas. That the fort sits at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, a sacred space for Dakota people, underscores the injury and injustice the author seeks to remedy.
What does injustice look like? State planning for the Minnesota Sesquicentennial, [End Page 109] and specifically a program initiated by the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Minnesota, the author's alma mater, through the Minnesota Historical Society. The University of Minnesota American Indian Studies Program is the oldest in the United States. The program has developed a focus on Ojibway and Dakota language training. Professor Brenda Child, an historian in the American Indian Studies Program, publicly floated a proposal to create a language center on the grounds of Fort Snelling State Park, nearly three thousand acres; subsequently, the promise of a multi-million-dollar grant to bring the project to fruition was secured. A public forum hosted by the program's chair, Professor Patricia Albers, and attended by the author and other Dakotas created sufficient public controversy about the now-contested program that the promise of funding was withdrawn and the project abandoned.
This particular chapter of the Minnesota Sesquicentennial and What Does Justice Look Like is a window into historic competing strategies among Native academics, the Native museum community, and tribal communities: to work within the system with guaranteed slow, if any, progress and shared control or to attack it directly from without, risking total breakdown in relations. Our ancestors faced the same conundrum. The uncomfortable truth is that Native activists, academics, and community members must employ both strategies with all attendant risks. What Does Justice Look Like illuminates the deep, unnecessary divisions we create when we as Native academics and activists pretend that we stand apart from the system and insinuate that to work with it taints us. Although the author describes herself as an independent scholar, she in fact holds no legitimate claim to that status so long as she continues to hold an endowed chair at a prestigious institution. This faux political credentialing undermines the legitimacy of her message among her Native peers, whom she needs as allies.
As for Fort Snelling, by omitting the details about the loss of a significant amount of money for language training as a result of the Dakotas' contestation of the proposed center and resulting unwanted controversy, the author refuses us the opportunity to examine this persistent dilemma we experience as Native activists, academicians, museum professionals, and community members and to reevaluate our choices. If the proposed collaboration between the American Indian Studies Program at Minnesota and the Historical Society had gone forward, Native students from the university, other institutions, and Native...