Rearticulating historic Fort Snelling : Dakota memory and colonial haunting in the American Midwest
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Built in 1819 by the U.S. government, Fort Snelling sits at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. This place is called a “bdote” by the Dakota people. Oral traditions describe bdote as the site of Dakota creation. Treaties in the nineteenth century allowed the U.S. government to dispossess the Dakota of this land. Fort Snelling is connected to many important points in U.S. history. It operated as a military post until the mid-twentieth century, and was a training or processing site for U.S. servicepersons who fought in the Civil War, U.S. Indian removal campaigns, and World War Two, among others. Dred Scott lived as a slave at Fort Snelling. Following the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, about 1,600 Dakota people were forcibly concentrated below Fort Snelling, where nearly 300 died. Shortly after, the U.S. government banished the Dakota from Minnesota. Today, Fort Snelling exists as “Historic Fort Snelling.” Run by the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS), the site offers a living history program which interprets Fort Snelling “as it was” in the 1820s—before much of these events of import occurred. This portrayal is geared toward schoolchildren and white Minnesotans, and focuses on the premise of peaceful U.S. settlement in the American West. This study describes Fort Snelling’s history, and address peoples’—both Dakota and other Minnesotans’—objections to the circumscribed interpretation of history at Historic Fort Snelling. By better revealing the memory alive at this site, most specifically the popularly ignored Dakota memories of Fort Snelling and bdote, this study hopes to convey what scholar Avery F. Gordon would term the “hauntings” present but unacknowledged at Historic Fort Snelling. This study concludes that in order to express the density of memory at Fort Snelling, MHS and Historic Fort Snelling must acknowledge that the Dakota people and their stories are crucial to its history. Further, these institutions must recognize that oppressive structures like U.S. colonialism allowed for Fort Snelling’s creation and operation. These structures and the hauntings they produce are still alive on this land, and onsite historical interpretation at Historic Fort Snelling must transform to reflect these living memories.