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Native Americans make peace with past with historic 16-day journey on horseback

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 28th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Wearing full Indian headdress and mounting their horses, nearly 60 Native Americans made a 16-day journey in memory of 38 Dakota men killed by execution in Mankato, Minnesota in 1862. The largest execution in U.S. history, the demonstration was intended to heal wounds rendered by an especially dark chapter in U.S. history.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Hundreds of other Native Americans joined them at a new memorial in Mankato, Minnesota. The "Dakota 38" were executed at the end of 1862's U.S.-Dakota war, an especially bitter land dispute torn from the ages of American history.

More than 300 men were sentenced to be hanged, but then-President Abraham Lincoln granted all but 38 a reprieve. Native Americans have long believed he was wrong to order any hangings. Several of the men, they say were innocent of wrongdoing.

Inscribed on the new Reconciliation Park monument are the names of those killed, along with a poem and a prayer.

Sixty riders, including some tribe members who rode for 16 days from South Dakota, were among the 500 people on hand for the dedication of a new "Dakota 38" memorial.

Mankato Mayor Eric Anderson read a proclamation declaring this the year of "forgiveness and understanding."

Dakota/Lakota leader Arvol Looking Horse declared "Today, being here to witness a great gathering, we have peace in our hearts - a new beginning of healing."

Sidney Byrd, a Dakota/Lakota elder from Flandreau, South Dakota read the names of the executed in the native Dakota language. "I'm proud to be with you today," he said. "My great-grandfather was one of those who paid the supreme price for our freedom."

Byrd's great-grandfather was among the Dakota originally sentenced to death who were given reprieves by Lincoln. The men were sent from a prison in Mankato to one in Davenport, Iowa, where many had died from inhumane conditions.

"Forgive everyone everything" was the mantra used by the Dakota behind the new memorial. These words will be engraved in stone benches to be placed around the new memorial next summer.

"This is a great day, not only for the Dakota but for the city of Mankato," Bud Lawrence of Mankato said. Lawrence helped start a reconciliation effort in the 1970s.

State Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who co-chairs a state task force commemorating the Civil War and US-Dakota War, said that while progress has been made through reconciliation and education, there remains a lack of understanding about what led up to the war and the problems that the Dakota suffered long afterward.

"Through understanding comes a healing that is still continuing today," he said.

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