In conjunction with its current Big Idea project reframing the colonization and conquest of the Americas, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts will present two free screenings of the documentary “Dakota 38,” which concerns the Dakota War of 1862.
Throughout the 1850s, the United States government under presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan repeatedly broke treaty agreements with the Dakota, shirking annuity obligations and encroaching upon the newly defined Dakota territory.
Payments slowed nearly to a standstill following the outbreak of the Civil War, and the federal government’s attention was almost entirely redirected southward.
Without financial support and because most of the land onto which the Dakota had been forced was barren, famine and store shortages ran rampant.
In August 1862, a mere 16 months after the bombing of Fort Sumter, tensions between the Dakota and the settlers of the recently incorporated state of Minnesota reached a boiling point.
Dakota war bands crossed the Minnesota River, raiding homesteads and easily overpowering local militias.
Despite the demands of the Civil War, the federal government eventually ordered a detachment to Minnesota to quash the assaults. The Dakota War of 1862, as it became known, ended on Boxing Day the year it began.
An estimated 150 Dakota were killed during the fighting, roughly twice the number of American soldiers killed.
Though an exact number of civilians killed by the Dakota raiding parties was never officially recorded, President Lincoln stated in his second annual address that “it is estimated that not less than 800 persons were killed by the Indians.”
American soldiers captured hundreds of Dakota men, women and children, and sentenced 303 to death in a military tribunal. Lincoln commuted the sentences of the majority of them, but did order the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors. To this day, it remains the largest single-day mass execution in American history.
The scar of those events, though perhaps commonly forgotten across most of the United States, looms heavily on the region, especially for the Dakota people.
In 2012, to commemorate the war’s sesquicentennial, a group of Dakota, under the guidance of spiritual leader and Vietnam War veteran Jim Miller, embarked on a 330-mile horseback odyssey from Lower Brule, S.D., to Mankato, Minn., the site of the mass hanging.
Filmmaker Silas Hagerty accompanied the group, chronicling their harrowing journey, the support they received from other native and nonnative communities and their process reconciling the Dakota nation’s current situation with this tragic history.
The final product, “Dakota 38,” examines Miller’s intense spiritualism, the Dakota’s troubled past and their hopes for the future.
As Miller put it, “We can’t blame the wasichus Dakota word for people of European descent] anymore. We’re doing it to ourselves. We’re selling drugs. We’re killing our own people. That’s what this ride is about: healing.”
The Sun Valley Center for the Arts brings “Dakota 38” to Ketchum’s Magic Lantern Cinemas for two screenings on Thursday, April 18, the first at 4:30 p.m. and the second at 7 p.m. The screenings contribute to The Center’s current Big Idea project, “Unravelling: Reimagining Colonization in the Americas.”
“We are honored to be screening this film,” said Kristine Bretall, director of performing arts at The Center. “It’s being offered to the community free of charge in alignment with the wishes of Silas Hagerty. The mission of this film is healing, and Silas asks that it be screened as a gift in line with native healing practices.”
The Center will accept donations, but admission to both screenings is free.
Anyone wanting to reserve seats can do so online, by phone at 208-726-9491 or in person at The Center, 191 Fifth St. E. in Ketchum. Visit sunvalleycenter.org for more details.