The Dakota Prisoner of War Letters: Dakota Kaskapi Okicize Wowapi

Nov 9th, 2014 | By | Category: 26-2: Workforce Development, Media Reviews

DAKOTA PRISONER OF WAR LETTERSBy Clifford Canku and Michael Simon
Minnesota Historical Society Press (2013)
226 pages

Review by Corinne L. Monjeau-Marz

While searching through folders and boxes of research materials, many historians have seen and held letters written by Dakota people 150 years ago during the Dakota War. Archived and preserved, these letters have been regarded as both treasured primary documentation and as history. This unique status is because these letters were written in the Dakota language during the post-war years, yet never translated into English. These paper artifacts have been available to see and touch, but for English-speaking historians of the 1862 U.S.–Dakota crisis and the post-war years, the contents of these letters remained hidden and unknown…until now.

Fifty of these letters have now been translated from Dakota into English, allowing readers a view into the world of Dakota imprisonment and confinement at Camp McClellan and Camp Kearney between 1863 and 1866. The translation process of each letter was completed in three parts: first, the original Dakota message was reproduced, line by line. Next, each Dakota word was individually translated into English. Finally, a translation of the original Dakota message was composed in prose-like, standard English.

Accompanying these Dakota prisoner-of-war letters are explanations about the translation process by both authors. Professor John Peacock’s (Spirit Lake Dakota) insightful introduction and afterword note that this text has not only published 50 of the Dakota prisoner letters, but has also included some of the oral traditions relating to the Dakota conflict. The cover art of the Dakota prisoners on the Davenport, Iowa steamboat landing by Dakota artist Francis Country, along with the various original drawings held at the National Archives, enhance this publication.

The two authors, Rev. Clifford Canku, an assistant professor of Dakota studies at North Dakota State University, and Rev. Michael Simon, an instructor of Dakota language at Moorhead, Minnesota Public Schools, are both enrolled members of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. Some of the many other contributors to this project include Dakota scholars and elders from Sisseton Wahpeton College and the local communities in Sisseton and Flandreau, South Dakota. The remaining preserved collection of letters awaits translation.

Corinne L. Monjeau-Marz is an independent historian and author of The Dakota Indian Internment at Fort Snelling, 1862–1864, and August 17th, 1862: The Day Before the Dakota War.

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