Here's an advance look at my column for Wednesday -- already online, actually, but we ran out of room in print today:
When I talked with Stanley Crooks, the Shakopee Mdewakanton tribal
chairman, a few weeks ago by phone, I was struck by how he wanted to
tell his life story. He was ready to talk, as if he had things to say
that he wanted on the record.
I had never met or interviewed him before, but Crooks was chairman of the Shakopee tribe for 20 years and was re-elected earlier this year to another four-year term. The tribe has an especially powerful historical connection to the Dakota War of 1862, which is why I asked for an interview.
I was surprised when he took my call; a few other Dakota tribal leaders didn't.
We had a wide-ranging talk about those tragic events of long ago and how they had shaped his own life and all of Dakota history. As I wrote in a story published Aug. 18, on the 150th anniversary of the day the conflict began, he said, "I've thought about it all my life. Here in my later years, it's more on my mind than ever," especially at this time of year, when in 1862 Dakota warriors attacked the Lower Sioux agency and killed white settlers.
The causes of the war can be debated endlessly, though historians say the immediate spark was Dakota frustration and anger over delays in badly needed federal payments that were due under treaties. Those payments arrived just hours after the outbreak began.
There's no doubt about the outcome of the six-week rebellion, though. The outcome was the forced removal of thousands of Dakota people from Minnesota; the quick execution of 38 Dakota warriors in Mankato, and more later; the exile of all Dakota people from Minnesota; a bounty paid by the state for the scalp of any Dakota person; "punitive expeditions" in Dakota Territory to kill and drive the Dakota people further west; the termination of treaties and the taking of all Dakota reservation land in Minnesota.
That's what the brief conflict meant to the Dakota people: Near-total destruction.
"The removal is still a traumatic issue for a lot of people," Crooks said, from his office at the tribal headquarters in Prior Lake. "It's the fact that everyone was removed, when all we were doing was protecting our homeland. We see a great injustice in the warriors being treated as war criminals. They were doing what any soldier would have done."
A conquered people
He spoke eloquently, in some quotes I didn't use in the story, about how the Dakota people survived that era. "You're a conquered people...your land is taken away, your culture is changed, your religion is attacked...as conquered people, you're either supposed to fall in line and be like the conquerors," or you're marginalized, he said.
"First they tried to exterminate (us). Then there were some good religious people who said we can't do that, so maybe we'll confine them in an area. And here we are, 150 years later, and it's still an issue."
When he was growing up on the Upper Sioux reservation near Granite Falls, "we never talked about the outbreak. We didn't talk about being on the reservation. I didn't even know we were on one until I was 10 or 11 years old. My grandmother spoke Indian all the time but didn't have me learn it. You need to learn the white man's world..."
He talked about the act of Congress in 1863 that terminated the treaties and banned the Dakota people from Minnesota, a law that's still on the books. That act of Congress "is not meaningless," Crooks said. "Certainly those tribes would want that banishment lifted. The majority of them wouldn't move anyway" from other reservations, he said, but they "have to be accepted by the communities" that purged them in the 19th century.
Through the Dakota people, "the state became a reality," he said. "But they were displaced — very harshly displaced — and (Minnesotans) don't really speak to that."
In his own life, "I was right on the track of assimilation," he said. "I didn't deal with the language, the culture, the ceremonies." He lived on the reservation in Prior Lake and worked at the now-closed Whirlpool factory in St. Paul. "My day was consumed with driving back and forth, interacting in the workplace and having minimal interaction with the community. After I left Whirlpool, I did some contract jobs, then got into (tribal) politics...and then I began going back to my history, who we were and how we got there."
Crooks, 70, was as responsible as anyone for the Shakopee Mdewakantons' revival, which was due in large part to casino gambling at Mystic Lake. He also was interviewed by a New York Times reporter recently. A few minutes after we talked on Aug. 9, I happened to look at the Times website and there was a story on the front page regarding the Shakopee tribe and how it was "believed to be the richest tribe in American history as measured by individual personal wealth: Each adult, according to court records and confirmed by one tribal member, receives a monthly payment of around $84,000, or $1.08 million a year."
Crooks was quoted as saying, “We have 99.2 percent unemployment” in the Shakopee tribe -- "it's entirely voluntary," because of the payments.
In our interview, he talked about "the economic resources that we now have," which "make us more equal." But he was more proud of "our philosophy" of helping other tribes gain traction economically. He said the Shakopee tribe has given more than $243 million to tribes and charitable organizations since 1996 and has loaned more than $450 million for economic and community development.
He pointed out that money, personal wealth and "the idea of going out and earning a living, by being productive as the white man would say," was "really foreign to our culture ... the land provided everything and we didn't have the issue of money."
I assumed he was in poor health; his voice was weak, he coughed frequently and seemed to tire at the end of the interview. I asked if he'd be interested in having pics taken if we sent a photographer to Prior Lake and he was. I wanted to join P-B photographer Michele Jokinen but ran out of time.
This past weekend, I realized why he had taken my call: He died Saturday at a Shakopee hospital. A statement from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community said he was known for "his decisiveness, quick humor, fierce defense of tribal sovereignty and self-determination."
I don't claim to know the details of Stanley Crooks' career, what he did well and what he didn't. But I believe he talked to me and a few other reporters as a kind of last testament, especially regarding the Dakota War and its impact. He knew he was just about out of time and he wanted a few more words on the record.
He wanted his story known. That's all any of us want, in the end, and when I heard that he had died, I wanted to honor his wish more completely.
"More understanding and education" are the paths to reconciliation with history, he said. For the Dakota tribes, "our people need to be educated, about who they are and why."
About a half-dozen readers have contacted me to say they have family connections to the events of 1862. They, too, want their stories known, and most have never been published. Merlin Mestad, of rural Rochester, came in Monday, for example, with journal notes on how his great-grandfather Knute and family were attacked by Dakotas in Jackson County.
I'm gathering these up and we'll publish them in late September, with more stories looking back at the events of 1862, which remain a living presence for many Dakota people.
Those events are "certainly on the minds of a lot of Dakota people," Crooks said in an interview with Twin Cities public TV this month. "It's very close to us."