During four days of speakers, community meals and music May 24-27 in Mankato, Minnesota, organizers of the Dakota Honoring and Benefit Concert hope to re-energize the long process of reconciliation. It’s been a long process to reconciliation between the Native and non-Native people in an area where 155 years ago, the brief U.S.-Dakota War ended with a gruesome conclusion and the brutal displacement of thousands of Dakota people.
It was in Mankato that the largest mass execution in U.S. history occurred, when 38 Dakota men were hanged the day after Christmas in 1862. Annually since 2005, participants in the Dakota 38 Plus 2 Memorial Ride have journeyed 330 miles from Lower Brule, South Dakota, entering Mankato in time to commemorate those 38 plus two men executed later.
Last December, Gabriel Ward watched the conclusion of the Memorial Ride and was moved by it. An enrolled member of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, Ward had accepted a position in northern Minnesota as director of I Care Ministries and moved to Bagley with his wife, Laura.
“We’ve been coming up here to Minnesota, my wife and I, for the last 12 years. We’ve been doing some ministering on the reservations. We did some traveling across the area here and also Mankato. Last year was the first time my wife and I were able to witness it (the Memorial Ride), riding on horseback and on foot. … This is a journey of healing and of reconciliation. That just moved me, the importance of the story, to bring awareness to the trauma.”
His own people’s experience includes historic trauma, but Minnesota’s history still left him unsettled. “From place to place, each story is different as far as the history goes, but it still has the impact today what we see throughout Indian country. But not to the magnitude here with the U.S.-Dakota War, especially with the mission schools, not as it was back then.
“I just felt very deeply moved about the whole matter. I was just saddened. Hearing about the trauma and all it had brought. We went into much prayer and research of history. I just really felt very moved about somehow being able to bring healing, reconciliation to that.”
Ward decided to organize an honoring of the Dakota people for the month of May, designated as American Indian Month in Minnesota, and enlisted what might be considered unusual help, given the contentious history between Native peoples and Christian churches and boarding schools.
He contacted local pastors in Mankato. “They were very moved by it, and they responded, ‘What can we do.’”
What they could do, he encouraged, was host the Dakota Honoring and Benefit Concert. It is not called reconciliation, he said, because that is a later phase in healing. First, the Dakota people’s history and ties to the homeland from which they were forcibly removed must be recognized and honored.
“Before reconciliation can really have an impact, there’s got to be honor first. And I believe honor is the first step toward reconciliation. This is something that God has laid on my heart, to have a ‘Dakota Honoring’, that name that has come to me.”
With the events centered at New Creation World Outreach Church in North Mankato, Ward hopes both Native and non-Native residents will gather to meet and learn. Pastors Dave and Tyra Laughlin had already hosted the Memorial Riders for dinner at the church at the end of last year’s ride.
What Ward saw at that dinner encouraged him to develop this month’s event. “The Dakota people and the people of Mankato came together. It was just a wonderful fellowship, a wonderful time. … We talked to some of the elders there and they were very open to have it right there at the New Creation Church.”
Many of the speakers and musicians chosen for the event have been involved in reconciliation efforts. Jim Miller, who started the Memorial Ride after dreaming of it, and his wife, Alberta, will speak and lead sessions, as will Peter Lengkeek, the first staff carrier for the Ride in its 2005 debut, and Wilfred Keeble, last year’s staff carrier, and Josette Peltier, a current organizer of the Ride. Keeble spoke about the Ride in an ICMN story.
Involved in another kind of reconciliation are the musicians performing at the benefit concert, the proceeds of which will go to support the Memorial Ride. Jonathan Maracle and the band, Broken Walls, a faith-based group formed in Canada, uses music for “breaking the walls of separation.” Two members of the group are Native; lead singer/guitarist Maracle is Mohawk from Tyendinaga Territory in Ontario and the drummer, Bill Paragan is Tlingit from Palmer, Alaska. The bass player/backup vocalist, Kris DeLorenzi, of Italian heritage, hails from Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Ward knows that the process of reconciliation in Minnesota began decades ago. The release announcing the concert notes, “Reconciliation efforts have been ongoing in Mankato for decades due to the efforts of Bud Lawrence, Amos Owens and Jim Buckley who coordinated the first Mankato Pow Wow in 1972.”
But the new Minnesota resident hopes this four-day event will be another critical piece in putting together a full reconciliation. “I’m not just looking at having the one time event. There’s just so much that needs to be done and just so much healing. You’ve got to start somewhere.”