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Dakota War to be memorialized in Christmas vigil

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A solemn vigil to remember the the Dakota War of 1862 will begin midnight in Mankato at midnight on Christmas Day. It will continue into the next day, the Rochester Post Bulletin reports, exactly 150 years before the day when 38 Dakota warriors were hanged.

The evening will begin with a night time fire lit along the Minnesota River. In the morning hours on December 26th, dozens of riders on horseback will travel to Reconciliation Park in downtown Mankato. Sandee Geshick, a Dakota woman from Cansa'yapi, the Dakota name for the Lower Sioux Indian Community, near Morton. That's where the Dakota War began in August 1862, and her ancestors were caught up in the events of that year and what came after.

The hangings in Mankato were the last act in the 1862 war, but just the beginning of a long history of exile and grief for the Dakota people.

"Ever since I learned what happened when I was a child, I have not forgotten them," Geshick says. "You do things to honor their memories, whether outside praying by yourself or by taking part in the walk or ride."

Geshick has relatives who are riding in the memorial horse ride from the Crow Creek reservation in South Dakota, through the Lower Sioux area and along the Minnesota River, which was the homeland of the Dakota people for centuries, to Mankato for the 150th anniversary of the executions on Wednesday. The ride began Dec. 10.

Some say Dakota people have avoided Mankato since 1862 as a place of bad memories or "bad medicine." For Geschick, who's 61 and a cultural consultant on Dakota history, it's not really that. But the site of the hangings is a place where reconciliation can occur. It has to.

There are other sites in the Minnesota River valley, from Redwood Ferry to Camp Release, where atrocities were committed by Dakota warriors and whites alike. But it's in Mankato where the final, public atrocity was committed in front of a huge audience and where all paths to reconciliation have to pass through.

For Mankato, it's a ghastly part of the city's history that was more or less been buried, more ignored than acknowledged, for a century. Beginning in the 1970s, the balance between "ignored" and "acknowledged" began to shift. The dedication in 1997 of the "parkette" that's now called Reconciliation Park was a big step on a long road.

"We need to continue to bring awareness of what happened to our ancestors," Geshick says. "I want people to know of that brutal history, and to not let that history die and fade away."

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