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Minnesota seeks repeal of Indian banishment

Rep. Dean Urdahl of Grove City, left, says Thursday that he will lobby Congress to repeal an 1863 law that banished Dakota and Winnebago Indians from Minnesota. Looking on is Dale Greene of the Leech Lake Band of Chippewa. (Tribune photo by Don Davis)1 / 2
Executive Director Annamarie Hill of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council says on Thursday that a resolution state lawmakers adopted seeking repeal of a federal law banishing Dakota and Winnebago Indians from Minnesota makes for a good teaching moment. (Tribune photo by Don Davis)2 / 2
News Willmar,Minnesota 56201
West Central Tribune
Minnesota seeks repeal of Indian banishment
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

ST. PAUL -- 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, American Indians 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 effect 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 American Indians, 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 is 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.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.