What Does Justice Look Like?

The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland

By Waziyatawin, Ph.D.

Living Justice PressSoftcover, 200 pp., indexed, photos throughout, ISBN 978-0-9721886-5-4, publication 2008



During the past 150 years, the majority of Minnesotans have not acknowledged the immense and ongoing harms suffered by the Dakota People ever since their homelands were invaded over 200 years ago.  Many Dakota people say that the wounds incurred have never healed, and it is clear that the injustices—genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass executions, death marches, broken treaties, and land theft—have not been “made right.” The Dakota People paid and continue to pay the ultimate price for Minnesota’s statehood.

This book explores how we can embark on a path of transformation on the way to respectful coexistence with those whose ancestral homeland this is.  Doing justice is central to this process.  Without justice, many Dakota say, healing and transformation on both sides cannot occur, and good, authentic relations cannot develop between our Peoples.

Written by Wahpetunwan Dakota scholar and activist Waziyatawin of Pezihutazizi Otunwe, What Does Justice Look Like? offers an opportunity now and for future generations to learn the long-untold history and what it has meant for the Dakota People. On that basis, the book offers the further opportunity to explore what we can do between us as Peoples to reverse the patterns of genocide and oppression and instead to do justice with a depth of good faith, commitment, and action that would be genuinely new for Native and non-Native relations.

 Reviews and Comments

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn (Dakota/Sissetowan; Crow Creek Sioux Tribe), prominent writer and scholar

From: Wicazo Sa Review, Volume 24, Number 2, Fall 2009
pp. 190-193 | 10.1353/wic.0.004

A passionate and unyielding voice for justice, Waziyatawin, Dr. Angela Wilson, advocates for Minnesota Truth vs. Minnesota Nice. This book is first of all a terse and eloquent recapitulation of Minnesota history in relation to the Dakota, in other words, it is a clear eyed and sorrowful account of genocide. Waziyatawin uses the loaded word genocide with a careful explanation of its accuracy. She is painstaking in her efforts to bring clarity to a divisive subject.

It is so important for Indigenous people in Minnesota, whatever their tribal origins, to stand together. For that reason, I hope that Waziyatawin’s ideas can be separated from any personal issues with other tribal people—some of which are recounted in this book. Considering our mutual history, we should all rise above the small, the petty, the all-too-human ways that tribal people are forced to struggle with each other for recognition by the power brokers in a dominant culture. Waziyatawin’s forceful recommendations for reparation, if adopted, could make Minnesota a leader in the difficult task of integrating the ugly truths of our history into an understanding of this state’s, and this country’s, relationship with Indigenous People.

Acknowledging the truth makes a people stronger, not weaker. As a specific example, Waziyatawin compares Fort Snelling’s disgraceful “fun fort” self-depiction with the somber reality that imbues other concentration camps and Holocaust memorials. The compelling facts about Fort Snelling include the sacred nature of the land itself, and the fact that it is filled with the marked and unmarked graves of Dakota ancestors, including women who starved themselves to death out of grief, women raped by soldiers, children and elders dead of sicknesses that raged through the fort. Minnesotans also hanged Dakota leaders on that earth. And so when Waziyatawin quite reasonably advocates returning the Fort to the Dakota to do with as they decide, it would seem an act of unquestionable justice. It seems, in fact, a great idea.

Nobody who reads this book will ever drive to the airport again without seeing the devastated woman on the cover—a young woman interred in what became a death camp in the winter of 1862–63. If Fort Snelling was to become a Dakota garden and ceremonial ground, the young woman’s thousand mile stare would at last rest with the living.

—Louise Erdich in The Circle News, January 2009

The book What Does Justice Look Like?: The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland has been one of the best books I’ve ever read! I couldn’t put it down, I had to finish it as fast as I could, and I did in a matter of days!

Written primarily in response to Minnesota’s celebration of it being a state for 150 years in 2008, and its Sesquicentennial Commission asking its citizens to reflect back on what they’ve gained and how much they’ve progressed as a state since, Waziyatawin, Ph.D., does exactly that, but from a Dakota perspective. And rather than looking at the past 150 years from a Euro-American point of view of “celebration” and in terms of “gain” and “progress.” She looks at it from an Indigenous outlook and measures how much the Dakota people lost and had stolen from them instead.

Waziyatawin, a noted Dakota scholar and activist, relates the history of her People before European arrival, and the often violent and traumatic history since that time. Taking the reader through a crash course of Dakota-American history, Waziyatawin briefly, but accurately gives direct examples of the unjust crimes of humanity that were committed against the Dakota people by the early Euro-Americans. And through these historic examples, she not only explains how Euro-American actions ultimately stole Dakota lands and lives, but that the effects of these crimes are still in continuation today, and to a large extent, continually ignored and supported by the US power structure of government.

Waziyatawin speaks undeniable truths about our concealed history and brings to light the most important historical and continuing contemporary injustices against the Dakota people, as well as giving very clear suggestions for what American people could begin doing to support Indigenous people in our struggle for restorative justice and liberation. She stresses the need for Lakota and Dakota people to remember the Oceti Sakowin (the original seven counsel fires) and traditional ways of our people in our beginning to work toward justice and liberation.

In reading this book it gave me more of an insight about the history of our entire Sioux people in learning specifically what our eastern Dakota relatives–our people–first experienced in their early dealings with the Euro- Americans, and what they currently face as a people largely living in exile today! It is an essential read for anyone who considers themselves Lakota or Dakota, and it is also a wake up call to the entire state of Minnesota, as well as all of the United States. With its message being that this country is not as free, equal, and just as some may think. For it is in fact completely the opposite when the history of this entire nation is looked at from the Indigenous perspective. But this call is not just for a state and national awareness to begin, it is also a call to the US government that they need to take responsibility for the restitution they owe Indigenous people.

Long has our voices for justice and liberation been ignored and silenced. It is definitely time for an era of truth telling, land restoration, and restorative justice to begin! And this is exactly what this book is about.

—Review by Anson Black Calf Wanblii Ake Glii
Reviewed in the Lakota Country Times, January 8, 2009

Ben Kimball online at Minnesota Reads, March 30, 2009

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