MANKATO — Some Mankato residents have set up a petition on the White House website calling for a posthumous pardon of the 38 Dakota executed in Mankato more than 150 years ago.
But as with many things involved in the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota War, the quest for a pardon is controversial, with some Dakota viewing it as an admission native Americans were criminals.
Mankato City Councilman Jack Considine said he was unsettled when, leading up to the 150th anniversary in 2012, the city was considering a memorial to the 38 and received negative feedback from some.
"We had a number of people stand up and say we shouldn't do it because these guys were convicted criminals."
Considine said he began to better research the trials of the Dakota. "I was kind of shocked to find that on average the trials lasted only 3 to 5 minutes and there was no defense allowed."
So Considine, working with the local Mahkato Mdewakanton Association, which helps coordinate the annual powwow, created a petition and posted it to the "We the People" White House website. President Obama developed the site to allow citizens to post petitions and he responds to them if a certain threshold of support exists.
Gwen Westerman, an English professor at Minnesota State University and a member of the Dakota, agrees the trials were a sham but opposes a pardon.
"In terms of a presidential pardon — that's a forgiveness of a crime. Those men were protecting our grandmothers, they were protecting our homeland. So for many of us that is not a crime," she said.
Westerman said she came to the conclusion a few years ago when there was an effort to pardon We-Chank-Wash-ta-don-pee, often called Chaska, who had his sentence commuted by President Abraham Lincoln but died on the gallows with the other Dakota the day after Christmas 1862.