MONTEVIDEO -- Two groups held separate, but simultaneous events on Sunday to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the freeing of hostages at Camp Release at the end of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
"This is vastly different than most commemorations we have been part of," said June Lynne, director of the Chippewa County Historical Society, as she greeted nearly 60 participants to the commemoration hosted by the Chippewa and Lac qui Parle historical societies and Clean Up our River Environment. The participants walked the 1.3 miles from the Chippewa County Historical Society to the Camp Release monument as part of a day devoted to reflection, communication and healing. Participants tossed written notes with their hopes for healing in a fire ring at the monument, viewed the historical society's display on the release of captives, and later joined at the Montevideo community center for a lunch and discussion.
The dialogue was the most important part of the observance, said Lynne. "This is a dialogue that should happen every year."
At the same time, a couple of dozen people joined to hear speeches, watch cannon fired by the New Ulm Battery, and also host a dialogue, all at the monument site. Madison native and historian Jon Willand is a retired professor at North Hennepin Community College who has often challenged "politically correct" history. He organized the event that featured the New Ulm Battery, which is a recreation of the New Ulm civil defense unit organized at the time of the conflict. Alan Woolworth, archaeologist, spoke on Minnesota's indigenous peoples, while State Rep. Dean Urdahl served as emcee and spoke on the major themes of the conflict.
At Camp Release, Dakota chiefs Red Iron and Standing Bull turned over to Col. Henry Sibley the 107 whites and 162 mixed bloods. They had been protected as captives during the six weeks of fighting. The significance of Camp Release is that it officially marked the end of the hostilities in Minnesota, said Urdahl. Yet with the surrender of the captives, the Dakota became prisoners and soon, banished from the state. Urdahl noted that U.S. military action continued against Indian tribes for another 28 years, ceasing only after the massacre at Wounded Knee.
"History is a mixed bag," said Willand when asked what his goal was in hosting the separate commemoration. He pointed out that there were bad actors and victims on both sides of the war.
Carrying an eagle feather and attending both commemorative events, Reggie LaBatte of the Upper Sioux Community found himself as the lone Dakota to be present at the commemoration. LaBatte said he came in part to honor his late grandparents, Walter and Genevieve LaBatte. Walter LaBatte was the last to hold the formal title of chief as leader of the Upper Sioux Community; the title has been replaced today by chairman or chairwoman.
But mainly, LaBatte said there was something telling him to attend the commemoration, well aware as he is that there remain many bad feelings in the Dakota community because of the suffering that came from the war. "It would only be right to complete this circle of healing with my presence," he said.
Soon after, the New Ulm Battery fired its six-pound field piece and demonstrated the Civil War era military gear that Sibley and his troops carried with them to Camp Release after their victory at Wood Lake. As the guns fired, many of those who had earlier walked to the monument with the Historical Society gathered around tables at the Community Center to discuss the conflict, how healing can be achieved, and how this all might be remembered 50 years in the future.