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Opening Of The Smithsonian Institution’S National Museum Of The American Indian

Sen. Thomas A. Daschle

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Mr. President, this is a happy and historic day for all Americans, and especially for the First Americans. Right now, about a dozen blocks from this Capitol, an estimated 15- to 20,000 Native Americans representing tribes from South Dakota to South America are beginning a grand procession down Pennsylvania Avenue. The procession is the largest gathering ever of American Indians in our Nation's Capital. As someone from South Dakota, proud homeland of the Great Sioux Nation, I can tell you, it is an incredibly beautiful sight.

The procession marks the beginning of a week-long festival in Washington celebrating the opening of the spectacular new National Museum of the American Indian. The new museum--part of the Smithsonian Institution--is America's only national museum dedicated to Native Americans. And it is the largest museum in the world dedicated to telling the story of indigenous people in their own authentic voices. Every detail reflects the views of Native people, from the text of the exhibits to the menu in the museum restaurant. The building itself was designed by the famed Native architect, Douglas Cardinal. Its curved exterior walls, made of rough-hewn limestone, suggest the ancient cliff dwellings of the American Southwest.

Inside those walls are 8,000 extraordinary artifacts representing more than 10,000 years of history from more than 1,000 indigenous communities fromas far north as Alaska and as far south as Chile. The museum includes three permanent exhibits. ``Our Universes'' features the spiritual beliefs of native communities, including the Oglala Sioux Tribe. ``Our Peoples'' looks at historical events through native eyes. ``Our Lives'' focuses on native people today. There is also space for changing exhibits of artwork by contemporary Native artists, and large spaces for Native American ceremonies and performances. In this museum, Native people and communities are not anthropological oddities or historical footnotes. They are not stereotypes. They are vibrant, living cultures.

I want to commend the museum's director, Dr. Richard West, a member of the Southern Cheyenne nation, and all of museum's dedicated staff and volunteers, who have worked so hard to make the dream a reality, including assistant curator Emil Her Many Horses, a native of Pine Ridge, who was raised on Rosebud.

I also want to thank our colleague, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a long-time champion of the museum. I especially want to thank my dear friend, Senator Dan Inouye, co-chairman, with Senator Campbell, of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and the original sponsor in 1987 of the bill creating the National Museum of the American Indian. No Senator has ever worked longer or harder to get our government to honor its trust and treaty obligations to Native American tribes, to Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives than Danny Inouye, and I am proud to be able to work with him to keep those sacred commitments.

As many as 6 million visitors are expected to visit the National Museum of the American Indian every year. They will come away with a deeper understanding of America's rich Native cultures. It will lead, it is hoped, to a healing and reconciliation between Native Americans and those of us whose families came here from other nations.

It is moving to see this living monument to the First Americans take its rightful place on our National Mall, along side our Nation's other great monuments. At the same time, we know that there are priceless cultural and historical artifacts all across Indian Country that also must be preserved.

I would like to tell you about one such treasure: an extraordinary collection of letters known as ``The Dakota Letters.'' They were written 140 years ago by members of the Dakota Nation, the original inhabitants of what is now Minnesota. Four years ago, copies of 150 of the Dakota Letters found their way to the home of some of the descendants of the original letter writers: the Sisseton Wahpeton reservation in eastern South Dakota. What makes these letters rare--and possibly unique--is that they provide first-person, written accounts of a tragic and little-known chapter in our Nation's history--as seen through Native eyes.

That chapter has been called many things. The first accounts, written by white historians in the 1880s and 1890s, referred to it as ``the Great Sioux Massacre.'' Later, it was called ``the Sioux Uprising.'' Today, it is known as ``the U.S.-Dakota Conflict--some say the U.S. -Dakota War--of 1862. It was the opening of the Great Plains Indian Wars, three decades of armed resistance by Plains Indians against white settlers and government soldiers.

The roots of the Dakota Conflict stretch back to 1851, when the Dakota were coerced into signing treaties giving 90 percent of their land, including their hunting grounds, to the U.S. government. The government promised the Dakota annual payments of gold and goods for the land, as well as help building schools and farms. The promises were never kept.

A decade later, in August of 1862, the Dakota were starving. The annuity payments were late and the government agent refused to sell on credit food that was being stored in warehouses for sale to the Dakota. When Dakotas complained, he stunned them by telling them to ``eat grass.'' Four days later, a hunting party of hungry Dakota youth killed five white settlers in a dispute over some stolen eggs. It was the spark that ignited the war.

Reluctantly, some of the Dakota chiefs chose to go to war rather than surrender the young men for hanging. Some hoped that the Army might be so distracted by the Civil War that the Dakota could drive them from the Plains. That was a tragic miscalculation.

The fighting lasted 38 days, raging across the Minnesota River Valley, south to Iowa and west to the Dakotas. Most Dakota people opposed the war and did not fight. Many risked their lives to save white settlers. When the war ended, nearly 100 American soldiers, approximately 359 settlers and an estimated 29 Dakota soldiers were dead.

Most of the Dakota warriors who led the fighting escaped north. Nearly 400 men who remained were captured and taken to a prison in Mankato, MN, where they were tried by a military commission. As many as 40 trials were conducted in a single day--a single day. The prisoners were all denied counsel. Many spoke no English and most likely did not understand the charges against them.

Of the 393 men tried, 323 were convicted, and 303 were sentenced to die. President Lincoln commuted all but 38 of the death sentences. The 38 condemned men were hanged in the Mankato prison the morning after Christmas of 1862 in what remains the largest public execution in our Nation's history. Among the 38 were men who almost certainly had not taken part in the fighting and two men whose names were not even on the list of the condemned.

For the rest of the Dakota people, the worst was still to come. After losing the war, they lost their nation. In March of 1863, the Dakota prisoners at Mankato were sent to Camp McClellan in Davenport, IA. More than 1,600 other Dakota people who had nothing to do with the war were also taken captive after the war and held at Fort Snelling, MN. In April of 1863, they were forcibly removed to Crow Creek, SD. That same month, Congress cancelled all treaties with the Dakota and used the money that had been promised to the Dakota to pay claims by settlers. Hundreds of Dakota family members died at Fort Snelling. Hundreds more died on the way to Crow Creek, and many more died on the Crow Creek reservation. Eventually, some of the families moved from Crow Creek to Sisseton Wahpeton. It is there, 140 years later, that the letters of the Dakota prisoners have been translated into modern English by their descendants.

Like the exhibits in the new museum, the Dakota Letters speak in the authentic voices of the First Americans. The writers speak of their love and concern for their families. They also speak of their uncertainty and their fears. One of the most extraordinary of the letters was written 3 days after the assassination of President Lincoln, whom the Dakota call respectfully ``Grandfather.'' The letter was written by a man named Moses Many Lightning Face to a missionary the Dakota prisoners trusted and referred to as a relative. The writer expresses fear about what might happen to the Dakota prisoners now that the man who had spared their life once was dead. These are his words:

Well, my relative, I wish to write you a letter. We have heard the news. They say that Grandfather was killed. But someone of authority should tell us if this is not true. Thus, I write to you this letter. Also, I have heard some rumors. Grandfather has compassion for us and, so far, we are still alive. But they told us he was killed, and we are saddened. Those of us here think if this is so, we are heartbroken. Perhaps the attitude of the cavalry soldiers may change toward us. Tell me what your thoughts are; I want to know; that's why I write to you. Then I wish to hear exactly how they killed Grandfather. . . . This is all I am going to say. I shake all your hands. Moses Many Lightning Face. This is me.

What makes the Dakota Letters so rare is that, like most Native American languages, Dakota in the mid-1800s was not a written language. Missionaries developed a written form of the language to teach the Bible to the Dakota. The missionaries who visited the Dakota prisoners taught it to them.

In Sisseton Wahpeton, the letters were translated by five tribal elders, working with Dakota language and history experts from Sisseton Wahpeton College. It was a complicated process more like code-breaking than simple translation. The words are first translated from Dakota, then into literal English, then into modern English. The translation of the letter to President Lincoln shows this process. I ask consent that it be printed in the Record immediately following my remarks.

Without objection, it is so ordered.

(See exhibit 1.)

Sen. Thomas A. Daschle

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Mr. President, like the exhibits in the new museum, the Dakota Letters illustrate in a powerful way that we do not have separate histories, but we see the same history through different eyes. This gift of being able to see our history from others' perspectives can only help heal our Nation and make us stronger.

I believe strongly that the Federal Government, which had such a direct hand, for so long, in efforts to destroy Native cultures, has a responsibility to help preserve these cultures not just on the National Mall in Washington, but in tribal communities throughout America. And we are making a start.

Next month, the first applications will go out for a new grant programs for tribal museums. Under the Native American/Native Hawaiian Museum Services Program, tribes can receive grants of up to $20,000 a year. The museum program, and a similar program to support tribal libraries, are both administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences.

The Tribal Historic Preservation Program in the National Park Service gives tribes control of decisions about cultural preservation on tribal lands by establishing tribal historic preservation offices, just like State historic preservation offices.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, passed in 1990, lays out a process to identify Native American sacred and funerary objects and return them to their people.

In Sisseton Wahpeton, tribal elders and educators hope to use technology to record translation sessions of the Dakota Letters and use the recordings to teach the Dakota language. They also want to use distance learning to teach Dakota history and culture lessons based on the letters. They can't do that now because they have run out of money for the Dakota Letters project. An amendment Senator Inouye is sponsoring to the Native American Languages Act might help the tribe finish the Dakota Letters project. It would provide additional resources for immersion schools and other intensive efforts to save Native American languages--which we are now losing at the alarming rate of one each month.

All of these efforts, and more, need and deserve the support of Congress.

Newspaper accounts of the executions of the Dakota prisoners at Mankato note that the men met their deaths with courage and dignity, chanting a Dakota death song. One reporter recorded that their final words were a simple plea for recognition: ``I am here.''

Those same words echo from every ancient corner of this Nation. Long before Europeans and others arrived, Native Americans were here. And they are still here today, greatly enriching our national identity and culture. On this happy and historic day, as we celebrate the opening of America's spectacular new National Museum of the American Indian, let us also celebrate the Native American history and culture that exists all across America. And let us vow to work together to preserve that history and culture everywhere it exists.

1. mitakuye ito wowapi cicage kta wacin nakaha wotanin naonhonpi

2. Well, my relative, I want to give you this paper now we have heard news

3. Well, my relative I wish to write you a letter, we have heard news.

1. tonkansidon ktepi keyapi

2. They said they killed Grandfather.

3. They have said that Grandfather (Abraham Lincoln) was killed.

1. tuka hecen tuwe taku tanyan onkokiyakapi kta iyecece sni

2. But then someone should tell us if this is not true.

3. But someone of authority should tell us if this is not true.

1. hecen mitakuye wowapi cicu

2. Thus, my relative, I give you this paper

3. Thus, I write to you this letter.

1. eya taku wanjikj nawahon

2. To say, I have heard several rumors

3. Also I have heard some rumors

1. tonkansidan he onsiondapi qa dehanyan nionyakonpi

2. Grandfather had compassion for us, and so far we are still alive

3. Grandfather has compassion for us, and so far we are still alive.

1. tuka hecen nakaha ktepi keyapi heon cante onsicapi

2. but then now they killed him they said therefore our hearts are sad.

3. but they told us he was killed, and we are saddened.

1. tona onkiyukcanpi hecinhan ehna cante onsicapi

2. Some we think if this is so, we are heartbroken.

3. Those of us here think if this is so, we are heartbroken.

1. hehan hecan isantanka kin hecen tokan kante onkiyuzapi kta naceca

2. Then this Big Knives the thus how heart hold us will maybe

3. Perhaps the attitude of the calvary soldiers may change toward us.

1. idukcan hecinhan omayakidaka wacin qa heon wowapi cicage ye do

2. what you think, if you tell me, I want, therefore paper I make for you.

3. Tell me what your thoughts are, I want to know, that's why I write to you.

1. hehan tonkansidan token ktepi hecinhan he tanyan nawahon kta wacin

2. then Grandfather how they killed him if this is good I hear will I want.

3. Then I wish to hear exact1y how they killed Grandfather.

1. hehan eya anpetu waken eca token owakihi waokun wicawakiye

2. Then to say day holy when how I am able to preach to them

3. Then, also on Sundays when I am able I do the preach to them.

1. henana epe kte owasin nape ciyuzapi

2. That's all, I say will all hand they shake,

3. This is all I'm going to say, I shake all your hands.

Mowis Itewakanhdiota--he miye

Moses Many Lightning Face--This is me.

Translation key:

1. original Dakota

2. Dakota to English

3. English translation

Sen. Thomas A. Daschle

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Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that my leader comments not be taken from the first hour of the Democratic allocation of time.

Without objection, it is so ordered.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper

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Mr. President, will the minority leader yield?

Sen. Thomas A. Daschle

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I am happy to yield to the Senator from Delaware.