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Diane Wilson, author of Spirit Car, Visited South High School

October 29, 2012

On Thursday, October 25, 2012, the author of Spirit Car, the selection for this year’s One Minneapolis One Read, came to South High School to discuss “the power of story to change our lives.”  The event was co-hosted by South High School’s All Nations Program and s.t.a.r.t.

Diane became interested in her cultural heritage as the 150th Anniversary of the Dakota War approached–and all she knew from her mother’s Dakota Indian family was that her mother had to leave them at age 15 to attend boarding school.

As Diane traveled through Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska to research her family’s history over five generations, she began to write the stories of their lives.  She imagined what it was like for her great-great-grandmother Rosalie Marpiya Mase, or Iron Cloud, to marry a French fur-trader, eventually taking shelter at Fort Ridgely after the Dakota War broke out.  Her vignettes resulted in the book Spirit Car and a subsequent book Beloved Child:  A Dakota Way of Life.

Diane began her time with students by thanking them for their interest in her work and the impact of the Dakota War.  She said that her audiences were mostly adults and teachers, and she was delighted to be able to talk about her work with youth. ” Over time, we lose the memory of what happened, yet you inherit the consequences,” she told her audience.

“The Dakota people had been pressured for decades to adopt white values, yet the Dakota War of 1862 was to place that decision in sharp relief, forcing individuals to choose sides,” Diane wrote in Spirit Car. “The struggle that many Dakotas felt at having to balance two cultures simultaneously came down to the gut-level decision of a single moment:  On which side do I make my stand?”

In her auditorium with nearly 300 South High students, Diane said that her story is not just about the forced removal of Dakota Indians from Minnesota, but about how Minnesota history fits into a larger historical context.  She urged us to consider the aftermath of events like the Dakota War on the descendants of those directly by the war, such as her mother.  “Boarding schools were modeled after U.S. prisons,” Diane pointed out.  “We must look at what 150 years of assimilation policies have done to our people.”

Diane inspired the students to reflect upon the healing that still must occur.  She talked about her work at Dream of Wild Health, a Native-owned farm where young people plant and nurture rare, 800-year-old seeds to learn about the relationship between our bodies and the earth.  She asked us to think about the shift from a hunting and gathering society to one with a high-fat, commodity diet.  The healing will lie, Diane advised us, in returning to the wisdom of the medicine wheel.

As Diane answered questions from the students, she provided them with questions of her own:  Who benefits from the silence of our people?  What does justice look like?

Diane ended her time with students by having us consider that “the way back is by learning the culture.”  She would like to have sacred lands, such as Fort Snelling, returned to the Dakota people. “Our work today is about cultural recovery,” Diane proposed.  “If we know what was taken away, then we can recover it.”

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