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on January 9, 2013
Mni Sota Makoce is a compelling history of the Dakota people and Minnesota. Like the beautiful quilt on the book's cover, this history carefully pieces together a wide variety of primary material in making an eloquent case that Minnesota is the Dakota homeland. Original sources dating back to specific Dakota creation stories and also including Dakota oral histories, French maps, and Euro-American art, photos, legal documents, journals, and letters are supplemented by recent historical, legal, and anthropological scholarship, with thorough endnotes that are not to be missed and a comprehensive bibliography. Working in collaboration with Dakota tribal members, historians, educators, an anthropologist and an attorney, authors Gwen Westerman and Bruce White present a history that is as readable as it is fascinating, and that would be appropriate for anyone from middle-schoolers to post-dissertation scholars.

As an attorney, I was stunned by the side-by-side-by-side versions of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux: written English, government drafted/ written Dakota, government interpreted and government drafted/ written English transliteration of the latter, obtained by the book's authors. Together with the government's Treaty Journal as excerpted, this should be required reading in constitutional law classes.

Personally, I loved the drawings by Robert O. Sweeny of Dakota daily life in the 1850's. He also drew a picture of his neighbor's cabin where my French several-greats-grandparents lived, along with lots of pictures of various other people and places in the area. No doubt enhanced by the personal connection, Sweeny's drawings came to life for me. I saw through Sweeney's eyes what my grandparents saw. As with Mni Sota Makoce in its entirety, Sweeny's art left me wondering, and wanting more. There has to be more material, hopefully being found, restored, and developed as we think about it, revealing everyday Dakota life over time from family stories, photos, drawings and diaries of ordinary Dakota and other persons, and I am looking forward to seeing it.

As one of those people who usually just reads a book once and then passes it on to friends, with maybe a dozen books on hand at any one time that have been passed on to me, checked out from the library, or just had to be bought, the ultimate praise I give for this book is that it stays in my small, permanent collection.
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on September 28, 2016
A few years ago, on one of my many trips back to Mpls from NY, I was walking on the Winchell Trail (along the West River Road) when I spied a rotting trunk of a downed tree. Someone had spray-painted, “This is Dakota Land” on it. How many people saw it? How, I wondered, did it affect all the high school kids who venture down to the beach or to the railroad trestle to party? Seeing a claim of ownership by a group on American land gives pause.

I thought of that place-marker as I reread this very important book, Mni Sota Makoce. This work is a valuable contribution to historical scholarship for its insight into the history of the Dakota people. The chapter on the treaties between the Dakota and the US regarding the lands of the future state of Minnesota has no comparison – it is the best overview of the treaties I’ve read. It is also, from my perspective as an environmental historian, a vital contribution to environmental history. Environmental history is squeamish about sacred sites but this text suggests that recognizing sacred sites must be an essential part of assessing changes in a landscape. I highly recommend this work to anyone interested in the past as well as the present struggle to identify more closely with the planet.

The book results from a four-year effort by eight people, two of them were the authors, Glenn Westerman and Bruce White, to tell a history. They were motivated by what they felt would be a flood of 1862 Sioux Uprising related works as the 150th anniversary of that event occurred (2012). At the start of the book, the authors lay out what they see as the problem with previous histories of the Dakota. Politely, they described how, so far, scholarship has not been interested in the Dakota but in how quickly they were pushed aside. Indeed, searching now for this book also results in a reprint of Dahkota Land by Edward Duffield Neill (who took inordinate pleasure in attending Christian mass where he knew the Dakota had celebrated their ceremonies before being pushed West). And while I am glad, as a historian, to get hold of such reprints so easily, Neill’s work is not a companion to Westerman’s. Neill was a propagandist for the westward march of American empire. Westerman is interested in telling Neill’s descendants about the people nearly erased by that march.

The first reviews of this book, in 2012, seemed to come from those who had participated or observed the controversies set in motion by the Hwy 55 Reroute through Mpls and remain upset. Alternatively, individuals looking for that perfect book of history – that tells all. I hope there is an attempt to tell the story of the Reroute that will do it justice. I hope there will be more books like this that tell the stories from an indigenous perspective. For now, there are no perfect works of history but this book starts to fill in a gap in our library and to balance out the narratives like those of Neill.

I hope this book is read widely, especially by those faced with preservation dilemmas – like the one in Afton right now. For the book nicely explains why people are still attached to the past. Why they think it is important to preserve places, like Pilot Knob, even though they are not in a pristine condition. Why and how the past continues to live in the land. We need reminders of our past for we are the past and we are the land we inhabit.

By the way, the place-marker I mentioned at the top of this review has been removed.
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on December 29, 2012
i think anyone interested in the 1862 war or the Dakota in general should buy this book.
i was surprised to learn that Rev. Riggs didnot translate the part of the 1851 treaty which said they were only going to receive the interest and 50 million would revert back to the treasury in 50 years.
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on February 9, 2015
I found it to be disjointed at best.
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on January 30, 2013
I actually purchased this book for my son, whom is very interested in the Native American in Minnesota. He absolutely loves this book. I made a good purchase for him.
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on February 4, 2013
I never thought of this: how to write a history of a people by writing about the land, and only about the land. It misses some more thorough exploration of the indian soul though.
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on March 12, 2017
This book is a disappointment from otherwise competent writers who should have known better. The writing, layout and writing style are fine and the book accordingly reads well. I enjoyed reading a number of topics from multiple books that were put together into one and found many topics of interest . But this book suffers from many the same problems as other recent releases from MNHS Press.

1. Modern, anonymously sourced oral tradition is used as an equally valid information source to archeology and primary sources.

It does true Dakota history no service when “faith based” history is dressed up as fact. (Faith = the belief in something for which you have no proof.) This book is so heavily encumbered with the use of, what I believe is, recently manufactured oral history that one has to question many of its conclusions. These sources are not, and perhaps cannot, be footnoted to evaluate their accuracy. The resulting new Dakota terms and place names are repeated throughout the book.

Archeology is placed on its head, in discussion of Dakota origins, and ambiguous claims asserted, which are not examined, in an attempt to connect historical dots which are not there.

ex: If taken as historical fact, Dakota oral tradition places Dakota origin at the belt of the constellation Orion. Modern, anonymously sourced oral tradition also places Dakota origins at Mdote. How can we take this seriously as history?

2. There is a pronounced lack of objectivity in this text.

ex: Both sides in the Dakota War of 1862 marched prisoners/refugees to camps to be held. Only US led marches and prisons and conditions were commented on, totally ignoring the deaths, experiences and conditions of white women and children marched to and held in Dakota camps. Why the difference? All should have been commented on.

3. The author uses misleading or inflammatory language.

ex: “Concentration camp” has a much more sinister meaning since 1945 than it had from the original 1902 meaning. These are used and help to paint an incomplete picture. There is no comparison between the concentration camps of Nazi Germany with either the Dakota run or US run prisoner of war/refugee camps of 1862 . Regardless of definitions, the common perception of these words leaves the public with a misleading impression.

4. Incomplete information is presented to encourage readers to come to misleading conclusions.

ex: US expansionism is commented upon but not Dakota expansionism. What is conveniently sidestepped by the authors, is the Dakota origin from the regions in and around Lake Mill Lacs and the ethnic cleansing the Iowa Indians from Minnesota in a series of three battles in the late 17th C, later generations boasting of it proudly . Southern Minnesota is not their original homeland and sadly, like most societies in world history, the warrior society of the Dakota competed for land and resources with other adjacent cultures. We are all “expansionist”. This side stepping is made possible by the modern, anonymously sourced oral traditions regarding Dakota origin as discussed in #1 above. One cannot be "expansionist" if one was always there in the same place.

5. There is little attempt to develop context for the reader.

Context or “the bigger picture" helps the reader understand and evaluate the events of history and the difficult realities of life in the early 19th C and why people living in such trying times did what they did, Dakota or white, good or bad. There are limits to this, but we do no good to our understanding of the past by expecting them all to think or act as we do now and often what seem unusual to us now is closer to the norm of the era.

ex: Ten percent of Dakota refugees in the Ft Snelling died of measles or other transmitted disease. What is not mentioned is that the same contagion, brought in by white and Dakota refugees, spread rapidly through Minneapolis and St Paul, and that similar experiences occurred in contemporary military camps throughout the east, both confederate and union. This spread of contagion is characteristic of any population kept in close confinement in an era prior to antibiotics, not just to the Ft Snelling internment camp.

There are many more examples to be found for all of the above six problems but brevity allows no more.

I think that the Dakota were poorly treated in the 1851 treaty and its aftermath and deserved better. But inventing a flagrantly biased, "faith based” history does the Dakota no justice. There is much to hold the Bureau of Indian Affairs, State of Minnesota accountable for in the 19th C without inventing new grievances or misleading a public new to this topic. The authors are intelligent, well educated scholars who seem to have purposely painted a picture of what they wished Dakota history to have been, not what is was. History is much messier, more complex and with more shades of grey than what is portrayed in this book .

History Reader
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on October 4, 2012
With all the books and articles coming out this year about the U.S.-Dakota War, it's refreshing to finally see one that's been done--and done very well--by a Dakota scholar. Bruce White is well-known for his writings on American Indians, and he and Gwen Westerman combined to produce a book remarkable for its emphasis on tying history to the land. This will be a valuable book for teachers and students of American Indian and Minnesota history, but it's equally interesting for general readers. A very enjoyable read!!
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on October 15, 2012
I was disappointed in this book.

I do give the authors credit for stating it's reading "history between the lines" so you know it's coming from an angle right from the start. However, I expect the author to still give complete information from his own sources.

What this book produces instead is "history" without the details that contradicts the "reading between the lines" agenda.

For example, on page 4, The authors first quotes an archeologist in 1823 "The Dakotas have no tradition of having ever emigrated , from any other place, to the spot upon which they now reside; they believe they were created by the Supreme Being on the land which they at present occupy". Then immediately quotes the Dakota Friend article in 1851 "One great natural fact which perhaps ought to be recognized and recorded at the start, is this,viz: That the mouth of the Minnesota river, lies immediately over the center of earth and under the center of the heavens."
There's the deception- it's when you go and read the actual account. This book only lists the first part of the article, when in fact just a few paragraphs later it lists why the story is wrong, and the actual tradition states they "sprang into existence about the lakes at the head of the Rum River"! (near Mille Lacs Lake)

There is no discussion on the contradiction, just present the story falsely, and move on with it. Barely a mention of basic facts such as in the 1650's French traders gave guns to the Ojibway who were already in a war with the Dakota, and were then able to defeat them and push the Dakota south from the Mille Lacs area, and the Iowa were then also pushed south by the Dakota. On page 54 of this book the authors clearly leave out the Iowa from French records.

This book is replete with such examples of selective information over and over again. Many "traditional" stories that apparently correct the written record of Europeans are from oral testimony- that was made after 1998!! The book attempts to back track these recent oral traditions to previous documents. Too bad it has to leave out so much KNOWN information to MAKE such stories work.

2 stars through for the bibliography at the end, as if you use that (instead of this book) it will actually get you some real history. But the text of the book itself leaves out too much selective information to be taken seriously. In the later pages it even asserts nothing really needs to be specified in history (page 217). If that's your criteria, then why even bother with the book?

UPDATE: The more you look into the sources, the more apparent the removal of history is the norm in this book. The authors cite Pipestone National Monument on page 23. They state "By the 1700's the Dakota controlled the Quarry". Who controlled it before? They don't answer... But according the the literature at the monument itself "The Siouian - speaking Dakota people arrived during the late 1600's to the mid 1700's replacing the earlier cultures. While considered by many to be the first inhabitants of southwestern Minnesota their arrival is relatively recent and their occupation short compared the the previous inhabitants. The Dakota, the predominant Indian culture here today were originally from Northern Minnesota." Why is this important? Because the book goes out of it's way to establish the Dakota creation story south of St. Anthony Falls. It does so at the expense of removing entire other tribes, such as the Iowa, from the history of Minnesota. NOTE: Archeology and studies done for Pipestone National Monument Historic site give fact that Iowa Indians were still in Pipestone Mn area in the late 1600's.

If this is "the Dakota history, and their DEEP cultural connection to their homeland" as claimed on the back cover of the book, why doesn't it cite Black Tomahawk- Mdewakanton Dakota Indian historian, early 1800's? Oh yeah, he cites Iowa being in southern Minnesota too, in present day Bloomington, Burnsville, Eagan...not to mention the other tribes.
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VINE VOICEon January 15, 2016
The goal of this book is to unify oral tradition, archaeology, anthropology and history to tell the story of Minnesota’s Dakota people from the Dakota perspective. It succeeds at this task very well. It takes Dakota stories seriously, from before contact to the modern period. This requires some balancing acts among Dakota and non-Dakota sources, and modern and traditional Dakota people - all of which the authors navigate well.

The book could use a stronger editor’s hand in places, as the story jumps back and forth among events, people, and places. There is some duplication of material, and some other places where the text’s referent is unclear as the story moves along. These parts of the book are not confusing, but are an occasional minor distraction.

Some other reviewers point out that the book takes the perspective of a particular Dakota group, leaving out the different traditions of some other Dakota people, and failing to discuss non-Dakota such as the Ioway. Those all seem to be fair points to me based on the text here (I have no expertise either way). If those points are correct, you're best reading this book as a history of some/many but not all Dakota in the region.

Either way, this is well worth reading if you are interested in the Dakota people or the history of Mni Sota (Minnesota).
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