Letter: Infamous comments of 1862 have echoes todayThis past weekend I went to the Minnesota Historical site at the Upper Sioux Agency near Morton, where the 1862 Minnesota Dakota War began.
By: Debra Hogenson, Brewster, Worthington Daily Globe
This past weekend I went to the Minnesota Historical site at the Upper Sioux Agency near Morton, where the 1862 Minnesota Dakota War began. I walked along some of the trails and spent some time reflecting near the spot where Andrew Myrick’s trading post once stood.
Myrick is infamous for his comment regarding starving Dakota children, “If they are hungry, let them eat grass.” While there is considerable debate about just when the insult was delivered — immediately before the conflict, or several weeks prior — and debate about where it was said (Upper or Lower Agency), several things are certain.
Myrick, who had a Dakota wife, knew that Dakota leaders at the council understood he was calling their children animals that should be fed on grass.
The agency’s Dakota interpreter refused to translate the comment, either out of personal offense, or fear of the reaction of Dakota warriors being addressed. Myrick insisted a second translator be brought to ensure his insult was heard.
Dakota people across Minnesota quickly heard of the comment and angrily added it to their growing list of injustices.
All of this is relevant in 2012. For one, this summer marks the 150th year since the Minnesota Dakota War. But, it is also important to remember Myrick’s comments because cruel people are never in short supply and often inadvertently imitate their predecessors.
Minnesota Republican Rep. Mary Franson’s atrocious statements comparing people who survive on food stamps with wild animals in our state parks echoes Myrick’s infamous insult. Like Myrick, when given a chance to tone it down, Rep. Franzen doubled down, repeating the comment as a laugh line at a fundraiser.
Myrick’s insult played a role in the buildup to the war in which he was one of the first casualties, something that isn’t remotely possible in Rep. Franson’s case. However, Myrick’s and Franson’s comments hold a commonality. Both are insults that attack and destroy the threads that weave people together as a community. Myrick and Franson described people similar to them as human, while others are demoted to animals.
Sunday, sitting in the sun and high grass near the banks of the Minnesota River, I reflected how language can be used to build or fracture communities. This is what is clear to me: It is the responsibility of each of us to condemn language that insults and divides the human community, and instead speak in ways that strengthen the threads that hold us together.