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Free Film Highlights Sad Moment in Native American History

Posted March 10, 2014, 11:57 AM HST Updated March 10, 2014, 04:27 PM HST
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By Vanessa Wolf

Dakota 38. Courtesy image.

Dakota 38. Courtesy image.

In the spring of 2005, native spiritual leader and Vietnam War veteran Jim Miller had a dream that he was riding on horseback across the great plains of South Dakota.

Just before he awoke, his journey brought him to a riverbank in Minnesota. There he saw 38 of his Dakota ancestors hanged.

At the time, Miller knew nothing of these actual events, now considered the largest mass execution in United States history.

According to Wikipedia, in early December 1862, months after the end of the US-Dakota war, “303 Sioux prisoners were convicted of murder and rape by military tribunals and sentenced to death. President Abraham Lincoln personally reviewed the trial records to distinguish between those who had engaged in warfare against the US, versus those who had committed crimes of rape and murder against civilians.

General John Pope, Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey and Minnesota Senator Morton S. Wilkinson warned Lincoln that the white population opposed leniency and urged the execution of all 303 men. In the end, Lincoln commuted the death sentences of 264 prisoners, but he allowed the execution of 38 men.

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Four years after waking from his dream, Miller and a group of riders retrace the 330-mile route of his dream on horseback from Lower Brule, South Dakota to Mankato, Minnesota to arrive at the hanging site on the anniversary of the execution.

Promoters note that “this is the story of their journey- the blizzards they endure, the native and non-native communities that house and feed them along the way, and the dark history they are beginning to wipe away.”

“We can’t blame the wasichus anymore,” Miller states. “We’re doing it to ourselves. We’re selling drugs. We’re killing our own people. That’s what this ride is about, is healing.”

The film screens at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 13 in the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater and is free to the public.

A Q&A with Jim Miller follows.

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