ST PETER An exhibit created by the Nicollet County Historical
Society and students and faculty at Gustavus Adolphus College is
headed for the biggest stage in the museum world.
Controversy: The Dakota-U.S. War of 1862" will be displayed by the
Smithsonian Institution in New York and Washington, D.C.
"We're really excited the Smithsonian is going to host it,"
said Ben Leonard, executive director of the Nicollet County Historical
The 12-panel exhibit explores events from the time Indians
and settlers first met to recent efforts of reconciliation. The
six-week war was carried out on the prairies of southern Minnesota,
resulting in the hanging of 38 Dakota in Mankato.
The idea for the exhibit grew out of a class Leonard and Gustavus
professor Elizabeth Baer co-taught at Gustavus. The final project
for the class was for students to create the content for the exhibit.
"The goal was to explore the history of the war. We knew we
didn't have years to do this, and these were students who didn't
have a lot of prior knowledge of events," Leonard said.
"We hoped it would teach people about the Dakota War, but we
weren't trying to speak for the Dakota people or for those who have
ancestors who fought or died in the war."
The Smithsonian opportunity began in January when Kevin Gover,
director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian
in Washington, D.C., came to Gustavus to speak.
"He saw the exhibit and suggested we could send information
to their exhibition committee. They went through a bunch (of applications)
and they chose ours," Leonard said.
"They looked at all our panels. I think they vet the exhibits
Leonard said the panels have been viewed by about 20,000 people
so far, so he believes the content has been carefully scrutinized.
The panels have been tweaked a bit since they were first done
after people viewing them caught relatively minor typos.
For example, a Dakota language speaker who saw the display
noted the word 'oyasin' on one of the panels was the Lakota dialect
and the word was changed to "owasin," which is the correct Eastern
The exhibit opened in March of last year and has been shown
across Minnesota and at President Lincoln's cottage in Washington,
The exhibit will be shipped to the Smithsonian at the end of
this year and will be on display all of 2014 and until mid-2015.
The display is scheduled to first be displayed in New York
at the Smithsonian's American Indian Heye Center before traveling
to the Smithsonian's Washington museum.
Leonard assumes that at the end of its run at the Smithsonian,
the exhibit will be returned to St. Peter but admits he hasn't specifically
asked. It's a minor point for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for
a rural Minnesota museum and college to be showcased by the world's
greatest museum and historical research institution.
"I think we'll get it back," he said with a laugh. "Whatever
they want. We'll bend over backwards for this opportunity."