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Angelique Townsend Eaglewoman

EXCERPTED FROM:  Angelique Townsend Eaglewoman, Wintertime for the Sisseton-wahpeton Oyate: Over One Hundred Fifty Years of Human Rights Violations by the United States and the Need for a Reconciliation Involving International Indigenous Human Rights Norms, 39 William Mitchell Law Review 486 (2013)(285 Footnotes Omitted)


During the Dakota War of 1862, human rights violations were perpetrated against Dakota men, women, and children. In the winter at the end of the War, the largest mass execution in the history of the United States occurred when thirty-eight Dakota men were hung. Wintertime has continued on for the Sisseton-Wahpeton following the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. In the aftermath of the War, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota peoples responded in various ways and, as a result of the War, scattered to the four directions. The quality of life for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate (SWO) continues to be far below the level enjoyed by the majority of citizens in the United States. The government of the SWO is under the plenary authority of the U.S. Congress according to the U.S. Supreme Court. The human rights of cultural and economic self-determination, recognition of the ownership of a permanent homeland, and freedom to live in peaceful integrity have all been denied to the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota by the U.S. government and its component state governments.

This article will discuss the human rights violations perpetrated against the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota peoples leading up to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, during the War, and in the aftermath of the War continuing to the present day. In discussing these human rights violations, the role of the U.S. government and its component state governments as perpetrators of abuses on the Sisseton-Wahpeton peoples will be examined. Racial hatred by White U.S. citizens and officials will be examined as a primary motivation for the human rights abuses experienced by the Sisseton-Wahpeton peoples. Finally, the article will present the human rights outlined in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP) as the proper standards to be accorded to the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and its people. With the realization of the human rights outlined in the UN DRIP, the future for the SWO would be significantly brightened, as when spring arrives after a long winter.

Over time, the citizens of nation-states around the world have broadened their vision of human rights and developed a greater sense of compassion towards Indigenous peoples. This evolution in the recognition of collective human rights was embodied in the 2007 UN DRIP. After centuries of colonization and exploitation of Indigenous peoples, the world community has begun to rethink treatment towards Indigenous populations.

This article will bring these standards to bear on the relationship between the U.S. government and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. By comparing the historical and contemporary treatment of the SWO under U.S. law to the UN DRIP's standards, the need to reconcile historical and contemporary injustices will be highlighted. This reconciliation requires a more compassionate, mature, and wise application of human rights protections to the Sisseton-Wahpeton peoples in the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota War.