By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
To Vernell Wabasha, there’s something missing in the markers and memorials that recall the Dakota-U.S. War.
Battles are noted and soldiers who “gallantly resisted two formidable and protracted assaults” are named at the Fort Ridgely monument. More recently, a buffalo symbolizing reconciliation sits at the spot of the Mankato executions that ended the conflict.
“They have markers all along the road about our savage Indians attacking white people,” said Wabasha, who has been married to Ernest Wabasha, a hereditary Dakota chief, for 56 years.
What’s missing, in the eyes of Vernell Wabasha and others, is a memorial remembering the 38 men who died together at 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 26, 1862.
“These men fought for the Dakota way of life, trying to hang onto something, to hang onto this land for the future generations of their children and grandchildren,” she said.
The monument, designed by Martin and Linda Bernard of Winona, lists the 38 names on a 10-by-4-foot scroll.
While the focus of the memorial are the 38, there is also a distinct message of reconciliation.
The phrase “forgive everyone everything” circles the monument, planned to be 20 feet in diameter.
The effort to build the memorial has been led by Wabasha, whose husband is the sixth of his name. The third Wabasha, Goodthunder, was chief at the time of the conflict.
Vernell Wabasha told the Bernards of her concept, and they created designs. The project has been especially meaningful to Martin Bernard, who is a Dakota.
Because the rest of the Dakota were marched off to Fort Snelling after the executions, and the bodies taken by doctors, there were no funerals, Bernard said.
“In actuality, I don’t think there’s ever been a ceremony to honor them, for the Dakota people to grieve for them,” he said.
“We want to give them a name ... They weren’t savages like they’ve been depicted for so long,” Bernard said.
The names on the scroll, made of fiberglass crafted to look like leather, will face south.
Dakota believe the spirits of the dead rise from their body on the fourth day, and travel south, he said.
The design shows the scroll surrounded by multicolored tombstone-shaped figures, though they symbolize the living, the people of the world looking at the monument, and the names.
On the other scroll appears a poem about the hangings by the state’s former human rights commissioner, Conrad Balfour, who died in 2008. The 20-line poem draws a parallel between the Dec. 26 hangings and Christmas:
“The day before the countryside had mourned the death of Christ the Jew
Then went to bed to rise again to crucify the captured Sioux”
The memorial is estimated to cost between $55,000 and $75,000. It would be placed near the buffalo statue in Reconciliation Park, probably to either the north or south. The Mankato City Council has given its permission, informally, to place the memorial on city land.
The next task is fundraising, and they plan to mail letters to 17 tribes, Linda Bernard said. There is not as of now a place to donate but that should change soon.
They hope to get it finished by September, in time for the Mankato wacipi gathering.