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Fort Snelling Bi-Centennial Letters to The Star Tribune Editor

In response to Stephen Osman's article: 200 years ago, change came up the Mississippi

In his attempt to give public recognition to the Aug. 24 bicentennial of the landing of U.S. Army soldiers at “Mdote” or “what is now Picnic Island,” historian Stephen E. Osman embarks on a slippery sleight of hand, intentional or not. Framing the entire “change” that was coming as “an impending tidal wave of outside immigration,” Osman grounds his historical narrative in the “vision” of John C. Calhoun, who at the time was secretary of war. No wonder the description of the change invokes “military movement” to secure “a decided control over the various tribes.”

Osman recognizes the army’s mission was to “enforce a peaceful transition” for the immigrants. Now the sleight of hand becomes clear — what is immigration according to Calhoun, Lt. Col. Henry Leavenworth and Osman can also in fact be understood as an invasion. Can this historical narrative in commemoration of Fort Snelling be recognized as well?



Osman’s facts, assuming they are accurate, contribute to our understanding of Fort Snelling and Minnesota history. Unfortunately, the value of his rendition of facts is overridden by his concluding description of the genocide/eradication (Osman avoids both terms) of Minnesota’s indigenous population as inevitable.

The “discovery” of the Americas by European sailors was inevitable. Genocide against indigenous Americans was no more inevitable than slavery or our current immigration policies. And the “tidal wave of outside immigration,” which drove the natives out of Minnesota, was neither inevitable nor a historical fluke.

The 19th-century wave of (mostly German and Swedish) immigrants occurred in direct response to the Homestead Act of 1862 and the active recruitment of European immigrants — which were in turn strategies for the military occupation of Indian lands, including Minnesota.

I myself am the descendant of 19th-century Swedish and Swiss immigrants, and therefore the beneficiary of these policies (much more so than of slavery), and I try to keep this in mind when I hear of the poverty that persists on Minnesota’s reservations. But, please, don’t try to tell me that genocide was inevitable.



Osman’s article began with interesting facts about a small fleet of boats and barges ferrying U.S. troops and supplies up the Mississippi to what is now Fort Snelling. However, I was deeply disturbed by the comment that “Some accommodated, many did not, but all had to change as had countless other native peoples … .”

The haunting chants of “the Jews will not replace us” from the gathered phobia groups in Charlottesville, Va., came to mind. My concern — no, my fear — is that the focus on the recent history of European colonization in Minnesota can encourage thoughtful people to develop fears that history will repeat with the current changes in U.S. population. U.S. citizens are not now and will not become “dependent domestic nations.” We will accommodate with (not to) those new to the U.S., and we will be culturally richer for it.




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