Historian's talk sparks controversy
Rhonda Gilman's discussion of former Minnesota governor receives mixed reviews

By Andrew Raduly


Rhoda Gilman

Historian Rhonda Gilman presented "Henry H. Sibley: The Consequences of Conquest" Wednesday, Feb. 9 after receiving an invitation by the Center for Rural and Regional Studies at Southwest Minnesota State University. More than 35 professors and students attended the event.

"It was a huge success," Rural and Regional Studies Chair, Anthony Amato said.

Gilman began her presentation enumerating the various contributions Governor Henry H.. Sibley has given the State of Minnesota.

"Sibley helped organize the state, put down the militia in Right County, let known that Minnesota will be a land of law and order," Gilman said. Sibley was one of the "architects of the Minnesota Constitution," Gilman said.

Gilman said that Sibley was a man of more than a little controversy. A poet once called him "the George Washington of Minnesota, [while in 1998] the Dakota people accused him of genocide," Gilman said. In 1966, the Minnesota Historical Society called Sibley one of the best seven governors of the state.

"Sibley was a private man," Gilman said. "Trying to find Sibley is like walking through a hall of mirrors."

Gilman also mentioned the Dakota Conflict and Sibley's involvement. Sibley had faced tremendous moral issues regarding the treatment of Native Americans and the conflict of 1862. He militated for better treatment of Native Americans and often lobbied in Congress for their behalf.

"How far can we allow ourselves to become tools of injustice?" Gilman quoted Sibley. Gilman added another question: "How much collateral damage are we willing to accept and what are the lessons we have learned from the past?"

Gilman concluded her presentation by saying that the Conflict of 1862 was a "tragedy on both sides."

"The native Americans have acted [in their guerilla warfare which Gilman considered terrorist acts] out of despair and powerlessness," Gilman said.

After the presentation, students and professors alike took part in the question and answer session. At times the discussion became quite heated and animated.

"The discussion was very interesting. I believe that both sides have talked in seeping generalizations," said Bill Palmer, a social studies student. "I was disappointed that one of the gentlemen has left the room. He was doing a good job explaining the Native American side of the story. Walking away from a discourse steals his voice again. This was very unfortunate."

Social work professor Mary Beth Faimon added to Palmer's comments.

"Dakota people were very brave, compassionate and fair," Faimon said.

Justin Hinks, a freshman history student, agreed.

"Groups will always collide with each other. We will be able to work out things only if we work with each other," Hinks said.

The question and answer session turned into a debate of perspectives. Several Native Americans in the room gave their opinion over the past conflicts.

"This is a good start, however there is a tremendous amount of work to be done," said Gabrielle Tateyuskanskan, an alternative education instructor at Youth Build in Sisseton. "There needs to be more dialogues. This country is sending mixed messages. Nobody is talking about a Native American genocide. There hasn't been one holocaust study in Native American matters. It is very hard to reconcile when a proper dialog and isn't present."

Gilman summed up her speech with a positive outlook on Native American and white American relations.

"Our hope lies in talking with each other, understand each other and respect each other," Gilman said. "There are plenty of perspectives out there and I admire people's convictions in regard to them. I hope people will subject their own views with as much scrutiny as they do others'," Gilman added.