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Grant Funds Book of 19th Century Dakota Letters

Letters were written by Dakota people in Minnesota from 1838 to 1878.

Kristine Goodrich, Mankato Free Press, 2-29-2016

MANKATO -- A more than 150-year-old letter translated this month by a team led by a Minnesota State University, Mankato professor sheds new light on a group of Dakota men once thought of as traitors.

The letter described how Dakota men were forced to serve as scouts for Henry Hastings Sibley and Alfred H. Sully in their search for Dakota people who did not surrender after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

“Sometimes those Dakota men have been characterized as traitors for serving as scouts, but this letter writer said that ‘every fourth man was chosen’ from those being held as prisoners; that puts a much different light on the situation,” Minnesota State Mankato professor Gwen Westerman said.

Westerman recently received a $195,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to translate letters written by Dakota people in Minnesota from 1838 to 1878. The translated letters will become the centerpieces of a book, which likely will be published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in late 2017 or 2018.

The book of translations is one of 212 humanities projects nationally that received grant funds last month from the federal endowment.

Westerman, who is a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate, said she hopes the book “will reveal an expanded narrative from multiple perspectives that documents the lives of Dakota people in the period before and after land loss, war, and exile.”

Three professionals and a graduate student are helping Westerman translate the letters and prepare the book.

Glenn Wasicuna is the lead translator and cultural adviser, who Westerman said “brings significant research and translation experience, and an exceptional level of insight and access to the letters.”

Sisseton Wahpeton College Dakota studies instructor Erin Griffin will write annotations providing cultural context to the selected letters.

Bruce McCann White will lead the archival research; he has “a strong background in Dakota and Ojibwe history in Minnesota,” Westerman said.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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