Stolen Land

Homeless people do not sleep in freezing temperatures during winter because they want to.

Native American citizens across the nation are homeless by tradition. In 1851, large amounts of land in Minnesota were ceded to the U.S. government by the Dakota. Those lands were secured through the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota.

Resentment spread throughout Dakota communities towards traders and the U.S. government. They were to be paid in yearly installments—annuities to fund trade shops, purchase agricultural goods and supplies, and to pay off debts. The debts were either falsified or inflated, claimed the Dakota. Moreover, the traders were paid directly by the government rather than by the Dakota.

Alexander Ramsey, governor of the Minnesota territory since 1949, is noted for his remark, “The Sioux Indians must be exterminated or driven forever from the borders of the state.” This racist attitude arguably helped shape the treaties that removed the Dakota from their land, from their home.

The U.S. government policies in 1862 prioritized funding the Civil War. As a result, annuity payments were late. During that summer, the Dakota could not buy food, supplies, or pay off their debts.

Traders and agency officials for the Dakota would not extend credit for these commodities. Many crops failed and the hunting was poor, resulting in many Dakota families going hungry. Tensions peaked within Minnesota’s Dakota community.

In August of 1862, a group of Dakota men from the Lower Sioux Reservation went to Tayoateduta (Little Crow) to lead war efforts against Minnesota’s European population. This decision to “reclaim their land” was preceded by an attack at the farms of Robinson Jones and Howard Baker Acton Towhship by four Dakota men on August 17.

Five people were killed.

Little crow reluctantly agreed, fearing that it would end disastrously for their nation (His Scarlet Nation). “You will die like rabbits when the hungry wolves hunt them in the Hard Moon,” he said, but “Tayoateduta is not a coward: he will die with you.” Thus began the war of 1862.

Little Crow led an attack on the Lower Sioux Agency. For several weeks thereafter, Dakota soldiers launched attacks against European American communities, and on U.S. military posts. It lasted six weeks in which over 600 civilians and U.S. soldiers, and 75-100 Dakota were killed, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

Not all of the Dakota were in universal support with the war. Many of them, as well as “mixed-bloods” (Dakota and European ancestry), protected prisoners and “worked to secure their release to U.S. soldiers.

In 1863, the U.S. government waived all of its obligations in the Treaty of Traverse de Sioux in a punitive response to the U.S – Dakota war, an act among others that continued to push the Dakota off their land.

Many arguments question whether Native American lands are stolen.

In the 1851 Traverse des Sioux treaty, the Dakota ceded over 21 million acres for $1,665,000 according to the Minnesota Historical Society. Out of that amount, stipulations were made to pay debts to traders, to relocate the Dakota, and $30,000 was allocated for schools and a new reservation.

Land that was acquired by treaty may support the notion that the land was not stolen, but when you assess the behavior of the U.S. government, traders and government officials with how those treaties were drawn and not honored after the war, a different conclusion(s) can be drawn. The U.S government kept “more than 80% of that money.”

The Dakota had no place to live after the U.S. Senate “changed the treaties by eliminating the reservations.”

It is also argued whether Native Americans actually owned the land in which they lived, especially since some tribes were nomadic. Such arguments tend to be exercises in semantics and do not address the fact that Native Americans already lived here before the influx of European settlers and immigrants.

The act of drawing up treaties to acquire land is at some level an admission that Native Americans held claims to the land upon which they lived. In this manner, claims that the land was stolen has merit.

In one of the richest nations of the world, homeless people are marginalized to the lowest of low-classed citizenry. One of the provisions of the 1851 treaties was to provide money for schools to educate and convert the Dakota to Christianity, not to create a homeless citizenry.

Presently, there are many students at MCTC who are homeless – over 13% of the student body in fact. Having been homeless myself, I’ve experienced the judgmental stigma that comes with it, despite the fact that I had a full time job.

Homeless MCTC students are challenged not only academically but also by the stigma of their living conditions.