It must have been one of many such conversations that Elizabeth Baer had while planning the course. January of 2012 seemed like a long ways away to me then, an abstraction. I was pleased to be included, honored to represent the role of the imagination in interpreting history. When the lunch ended, we went our separate ways and checked back in now and then over the course of next twenty-four months as the speaking engagement crept closer.
This remains a troubled, controversial history. In a recent column welcoming the state's first female American Indian legislator, columnist Lori Sturdevant draws a direct connection to the "150th anniversary of the Dakota War." She reminds us of William's Faulkner's injunction that "the past isn't over; it isn't even the past," a lesson she learned all too well when she was bombarded with angry emails from all sides after a column she published about the conflict. "Good luck" she wishes to the Minnesota Historical Society or any other groups organizing events around the sesquicentennial. (See: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/otherviews/137789273.html for the full column.)
Like Lori Sturdevant, I'll admit a little nervousness heading into my presentation. I'm happy to report that in this case she was wrong. The people did come, but there wasn't any spirit of contention, nor clamors of protest. That summer day I first spoke with Elizabeth, I could not have pictured anything like what happened when I showed up last Tuesday to speak at Alumni Hall on the Gustavus campus. Over two hundred people had gathered to listen and dialogue about the Dakota Conflict, along with another forty or so more who watched the lecture via simulcast at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
August of this year will mark the sesquicentennial of the Dakota Conflict and this history remains what I've described as "a living wound in the time continuum." Look at the picture above, how many people came from the community of St. Peter and surrounding areas, gathered to honor the past. It’s something I’ve also seen in places like Cambridge, Minnesota and Winona where my book was a community wide read. If this history is a wound, it’s only through such dialogues that a possibility for healing might emerge.