Melvin Lee Houston: Healing the wounds of the Dakota people

Little Crow was a Dakota chief who fought in the Dakota War of 1862 after the federal government broke treaty promises to his people. Photo from Library of Congress

Melvin Lee Houston, a member of the Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, calls for an annual gathering to share history among the Dakota people:
We, as Dakota people, have a shared history of exile, pain and grief. Since 1862, we have been working individually and collectively to recover from that pain and renew our beautiful way of life. This is challenging work. Many divisions were created among us before and during the Dakota War that live on today. We need to recognize that these political divisions as well as geographic divisions were forced upon us by colonization.

The church, the settlers and the cavalry divided us into ‘good’ Indians and ‘bad’ Indians. The ‘bad’ Indians were those that wanted to keep their Dakota culture, language and lifeways. The ‘good’ Indians were those that were willing to give up their Dakota identity, adopt Christianity and assimilate. We were all forced to choose a path that we thought would allow for our continued survival. Even our chiefs had to make this choice. Some thought our survival depended on adopting the customs of the Europeans. Others thought we needed to resist in order to protect who we were.

Even among the ‘good’ Indians, there were divisions. There were the ‘cut hairs’, the ‘friendlies’ and the ‘loyal’ Mdewakanton, also called the loyalists. It is important that we as Dakota understand the definition of a loyalist and how this word is used today.

Get the Story:
Melvin Lee Houston: An Open Letter to the Dakota Oyate (Indian Country Today 3/21)

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