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1863 Dakota Expulsion Act Still On Books

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151 years after the U.S–Dakota War, Dakota and non–Native people alike are looking for healing after the wrongs committed during the 1862 conflict.

But the existence of the Dakota Expulsion Act, passed by Congress the year after the war ended, isn't helping that cause.

Every December, people of Dakota heritage from all over the Midwest visit Mankato to remember the Dakota 38, the men President Lincoln ordered hanged after the war in the largest mass–execution in U.S. history. Some even make the ride on horseback from Crow Creek, South Dakota.

"It's a real sensitive issue, between racism and I think it's something that needs to be addressed and acknowledged.

Lower Sioux Tribal Council member Justice Wabasha is talking about the 1863 Dakota Expulsion Act.

It's no longer enforced, but for members of the Dakota community, it's what it symbolizes that matters.

Kurt BlueDog is a Minneapolis lawyer specializing in Federal Tribal Law. He's also Dakota.

"In the aftermath of the 1862 wars between the Dakota people, my people, and the United States, I believe there was just a lot of animosity directed to the Dakota people. They passed it, not necessarily considering whether it was constitutional or not," BlueDog explains.

And despite a push from state Rep. Dean Urdahl and members of the Dakota community in recent years for the act to be repealed, it's still on the books.

Lower Sioux Community member Pamela Halverson says that's unacceptable.

"This is our homeland. This is where our people came from, this is the beginning of our people within Minnesota."

The homeland tie rings true for Mahkato Wacipi chair David Brave Heart, too. He's descendent of survivors of the war.

"We're talking about a generational trauma, we're talking about a Dakota people who were displaced. Taken from their homeland, forced to go someplace else. And that's not so many generations back. We're talking only 4 or 5 generations of people."

The fact that the act still exists seems dissonant with attempts to make things right in recent years—–Governor Dayton repudiating then–Governor Ramsey's call for extermination of the Dakota people; this memorial at Reconciliation Park in Mankato commemorating the lost lives of the Dakota 38.

Maybe the federal government needs to step up and say, hey, we're sorry. And I think healing can take place maybe from that perspective," Brave Heart says.

...An apology Wabasha thinks lawmakers may be reluctant to give.

"It's a law they probably wish they never put in place, but they probably don't know how to address it themselves."

And BlueDog says he doesn't see Congress taking action without a bigger push from people who oppose it.

"Nobody seems to have much interest in, to sort of light a fire under Congress people, as well as the administration, to correct a law that's 150 years old."

But as long as it exists, Dakota community members say it's working against reconciliation efforts.

"And maybe that's not the right word, maybe we need to be talking about healing," says Brave Heart.

And as the annual ride from South Dakota to Mankato shows, that healing process is still ongoing.

KEYC News 12 asked Congressman Tim Walz for his opinion on the act. A Walz spokesman, Tony Ufkin, gave us the following statement:

"The Congressman has been and is supportive of getting this law off the books. While there isn't any final legislative language yet, he is interested in addressing the issue."