Minnesota Seeks U.S. Indian Law Change

Rep. Dean Urdahl

Minnesota’s request to overturn a federal law that threw Dakota and Winnebago Indians out of the state can become a way to teach about mistreatment over the years, Native Americans and a state legislator say.

The 1863 law banning the two tribes has been replaced with presidential and congressional actions, and Dakota Indians live on four Minnesota reservations, but the law remains on the books.

Rep. Dean Urdahl said on Thursday it is past time to repeal it.

"The affect largely is symbolic," the Grove City Republican said, but overturning the law could ease remaining Indian resentment.

The symbolism is important, added Annamarie Hill, the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council executive director. "It says a lot about where we are in the healing."

A resolution Urdahl authored asking Congress to repeal the 1863 law easily passed the Minnesota Legislature this month.

Urdahl and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said they hope U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat who serves two western Minnesota Dakota reservations, will take on the cause. Peterson’s spokeswoman said he knows about the situation "and he’s gathering more information before he introduces any legislation."

All Indians can benefit from publicity over the effort, according to Dale Greene of the Leech Lake Band of Chippewa.

"We have been cheated," he said of Washington taking land from Native Americans, and not enough people understand that.

Hill said that if more people know the history, it would create "a better environment for everybody."

Minnesota is home to four Dakota communities — Shakopee Mdewakanton in the southern Twin Cities, Prairie Island near Red Wing; Lower Sioux near Redwood Falls and Upper Sioux near Granite Falls.

The Dakota people originally had land along the Minnesota River, but after a six-week 1862 war between the Dakota and the federal government, President Abraham Lincoln and Congress banished the Dakota and Winnebago people to what was then the Dakota Territory. Now, the Winnebago community in Nebraska, while Dakota people are in a wider area.

"At the time, Lincoln believed that he was providing a service to the Dakota, acting upon the belief that the white citizens of our state would commit outrageous acts against the surviving Dakota if they were left in Minnesota," said Urdahl, a Lincoln scholar.

University of Minnesota professor Hy Berman recently discovered the 1863 law remains on the books.