The Santee Sioux Nation is the current home to many descendants of the Wahpekute Band of the Dakota Nation, on whose land our office is located. Kameron Runnels, Vice Chairman of the Santee Sioux Nation Tribal Council, kindly gave his time to answer questions in an interview with Improve Group Chief Practice Officer Becky Stewart. Check out Part II below. And you can read Part I here!
We want to thank Kameron for his time for the interview—as well as giving advice on how to pay our land tax to the Santee Sioux Nation in acknowledgement of being on its land. We invite our neighbors to do the same. Donations can be made to:
Interview with Kameron Runnels, Vice Chairman of Santee Sioux Nation - Part II
Question: What would you like folks to know about the Santee Sioux Nation right now?
Answer: A lot of people concentrate on the Dakota war; this was really important, a big event seared into Dakota memory forever. You don’t hear as much about what happened after, up to today. After the war, our people were put in prison camp, then moved to Crow Creek South Dakota. We lived there for 2-3 years. It was a brutal place – famine, disease, and hundreds of people died in the first year. The
Winnebago/Ho Chunk tribes were removed with us, though they had nothing to do with the war. All the Dakota men were gone; the community was just women, children, and older people. Women had to prostitute themselves to white soldiers to survive and do just about anything to keep their children alive. We did have the Ho Chunk people who helped our women, and I am not sure what would have happened if we did not have them. The Ho Chunk Tribe eventually would go down to the river there, cut trees down, make canoes, and slowly they would float down river to where their present reservation is today in Nebraska.
Eventually, we were allowed to leave and came downriver to our present location. There is a bluff here that reminded our ancestors of home. Near where the mouth of the Bazile Creek enters the Missouri River, a bluff overlooks the valley. This particular hill reminded everyone of a landmark and story from Minnesota along the Mississippi river. The bluff today we call Maidens Leap, originated in Minnesota, and the story tells of a young Dakota woman being forced to marry a man she did not love or want to be with. Rather than live with this man, she instead leaped off this bluff in Minnesota to her death. The landmark our ancestors had seen in our new home in Nebraska reminded them of that story. That is part of the reason why we settled in this area.
After the Dakota war and after the execution and imprisonment of our men, women, children, and elderly remained. The men were all in jail in Davenport, IA. They did not know what was happening in Crow Creek, SD. When our people were allowed to leave Crow Creek, the men were released from prison and were shipped upriver and met the women and children at present day Santee, NE.
In 1866, we settled into four districts, each district centered around a church: Howe Creek, Hobu Creek, Santee, Bazile Creek. We adapted to farming. The church set up a boarding school, which had missionaries and church officials who had helped us when we were in Minnesota. They helped us build a boarding school where early on many students excelled here and became teachers, learned trades, and became professionals. Due in part because the Dakota language was allowed to be spoke by students. Later the government and church would not fund the school any longer until Dakota was forbidden to be used in the school. The school then turned strictly into an industrial school where girls learned to be housewives and things of that nature, and men learned how to work farming equipment. Finally, the school closed permanently in the 1930s. During that time of the school closure there were many Dakota people living here on the reservation. But the school had provided employment for many people, and without the school many of our ancestors did not have any means to support their families financially. A mass exodus began in the late 1930s, and with World War II breaking out, many jobs were available in the larger towns and cities close by. Our people began moving off the reservation to Sioux City, IA, Norfolk, NE, Omaha, and Lincoln, NE, and soon there were only a couple hundred people living on the reservation.
Up until the 1960s and early 1970s there were not many families living here, but our tribal council during that time helped bring federal dollars here to start programs and housing. Soon houses were built in the community of Santee, and over time many families began to move back, and the community grew in population. People moved from the countryside of the reservation to live in the town. Still today there are about 800 tribal members living on the reservation. We have a total of 2,900 tribal members and the majority live off reservation, and many live in neighboring communities of the reservation as well.
When the federal government allotted the land on the reservation, only half was allotted to tribal members. The rest was opened up to non-Dakota settlers. We don’t understand how that happened, or why, and we are not sure if the tribe could take any kind of legal action against the government to find out why only half our reservation was allotted and if we can be compensated for that loss.
Many people who were allotted land lost it – to pay off debts like grocery bills or farming debt. We lost nearly all of our land; somehow being swindled out of it by deception or owing bills to a farmer, or a grocery store. How could that happen? A tribal member in the early 20th century could owe a $10 or $20 grocery bill and have their land taken to compensate the store owner. Then hundred years later, the tribe buys back that land for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Another problem that occurred with land, many of the original allottees never made a will on who would receive the land after that person died. With no will, land of 80 acres would be divided into the surviving children, and in turn those children would not make a will, and the land would be divided even more. After years of this, dozens of people could own a small percentage of the original allotted land, making it almost impossible to put homes, farms, or any other structure there unless you have permission from a certain percentage of the land owners who could number anywhere from 10 people to 30.
Today, we own about 25% of the original reservation, which is 12 miles east and west, 15 miles north and south. The tribe tries to purchase land whenever it is up for sale, and it is a goal of the tribe to buy as much land back as possible.
Check back soon for the third and final part of Kameron's interview
In the last part of our interview with Kameron Runnels, he will share more about the Santee Sioux Nation right now, how those living on his traditional lands can best support the Nation, and advice for people seeking to learn more about the past and present of his Nation. We will send this out with our next newsletter!