Were the Dakota Indians driven off their land, because they didn’t know how to use their words?
I almost swerved into heavy traffic on the Kennedy last week when I heard a very earnest-sounding teacher give the following explanation of how she presents the U.S. – Dakota War to her 3rd graders.
We just talked about, like, a conflict is a disagreement. And we talked how the Dakota Indians didn’t know how to solve their conflicts. And the only way they knew how to solve their disagreements was to fight, which we know we don’t fight when we solve conflicts, we use our words.
But that was their only way that they knew how to solve a conflict, they fought. And so then the white settlers needed to fight back to protect themselves…
On NPR’s This American Life, reporter John Biewen marked both Thanksgiving and the 150th anniversary of the largest mass hanging in U.S. history with a terrific story of the mistreatment of the Dakota by fur traders and the U.S. government, the resulting Dakota War and the expulsion of the Dakota from their lands in Minnesota in 1862. Biewen asks how he could have grown up in Mankato, where this horrific event took place, and never been taught the history of the war, the hanging or the expulsion that made modern Minnesota possible. Today, teaching about the Dakota War is required in Minnesota — Biewen was interviewing a Mankato teacher — but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the lessons impart much of an authentic understanding of what transpired.
This simplistic and racialized bad guys – good guys analysis perpetuates damaging stereotypes and completely glosses over the complexities and injustices of White-Indian relations; that it came from a teacher in 2012 was shocking (hence the near-swerve).
It was to deconstruct racial attitudes such as this that we at Ancona adopted our Multicultural Curriculum Strands nearly twenty years ago. The Strands are a framework of critical ideas that undergird all curriculum development at Ancona. The Strands very clearly state that our curriculum is designed to promote respect and anti-bias understandings in our students.
Here’s one of our most important strands: There are multiple viewpoints to every event and situation. Knowledge is subjective and must be understood in the context of who is creating it as well as in the context of who is receiving it.
Were the Mankato teacher responsible for implementing the Multicultural Strands as Ancona teachers are, she most certainly would have understood and taught a very different history lesson,one that looked at the experience from different points of view and asked the children to think critically about the realities and brutalities of the Westward Expansion. They might well have made the connection to resolving conflicts peacefully, but from the vantage point of appreciating not only differences, but the relationship between violence and injustice.
Another strand says: Authentic voices communicating the stories of real people serve as the foundation upon which curriculum is developed and the medium through which it is communicated.
You can listen to the authentic voices of this story at http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/479/little-war-on-the-prairie.
The Multicultural Curriculum Strands are included in the Parent Handbook. Access the handbook on our website under Forms and Policies. here>