‘Dakota 38′: The Long Road to Forgiveness
November 9, 2012
Filed under A&E
The road to forgiveness is often filled with many difficulties. When one person greatly offends you, it takes a lot of effort to reconcile with the offender. Imagine you had to forgive many people, whom you didn’t know, for committing atrocities, including mass murder, a century and a half earlier to your ancestors.
“Dakota 38″ follows such a story of reconciliation. Vietnam War veteran Jim Miller had a dream in 2005 that he was riding across South Dakota, and eventually came upon a place where he saw thirty-eight of his ancestors hung by American troops. He did some research and found that on December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota Indians were in Mankato, Minnesota after the tribe rose up against American oppression. Miller then decided that he would ride from his home in South Dakota to the place of the executions, and that he would arrive in Mankato on the 2008 anniversary of the hangings.
The documentary follows the 330 mile trail the numerous Native Americans took across South Dakota into Minnesota in freezing winter conditions. Along the way, a few of the travelers give personal narratives. One was from an eighteen year old who talks constantly about how he hates white people for what they did to his ancestors. Even when he receives hospitality from Caucasians along the way, the young man says how he appreciates it, but, despite evidence to the contrary, he “knows” they think of him as someone who could steal the belongings of the white men.
Miller also gives many talks throughout the film. He shares how much he loves everyone who is on the journey with him, and he tells them that constantly. He also tells everyone who shows him hospitality that he loves them, and that he prays for them. He and many of the other riders discuss amongst themselves how they are doing something “so right”, how they are going down the path towards forgiveness, with their ancestors’ spirits leading the way.
By the time they reach their destination, the audience learns that originally 300 people were supposed to be killed, but Abraham Lincoln reduced that number to thirty-eight. Despite the reduction, the killing of the thirty-eight Native Americans still made it the largest mass hanging in American history.
As they reach the location of the hangings, the mayor of Mankato welcomes them with a very moving speech, fittingly ending with the phrase, “Welcome back to your home.” He then proclaims the 26th as Native American Reconciliation Day in that town, and presents Miller with a Key to the City, saying that “it opens hearts”.
The film closes with an In Memoriam for those on the trip that died between 2008 and 2012. Throughout the film, the Native Americans talked about how it’s such a depressing history they have, and how it takes its toll on their spirits. It was this same depression that led a twenty-one year old traveler to kill himself in 2010.
In terms of shooting, editing, and music, you really couldn’t ask for more. Silas Hagerty was approached by Miller in 2008 to shoot the film. He graciously accepted, and through a friend, found Justus Parrotta, CUA doctorate student and co-composer of the film’s score.
The shots are breathtaking, and in all honesty, some are so beautiful, you’d think they were planned out. Then again, the most beautiful things in life are often unscripted.
The film was shot in 2008, and was edited throughout the four years leading up to its January 2012 release. It has been screened in Mankato, colleges around the nation, and in a San Francisco prison for the Native American inmates. Hagerty released the film for free, and posted it on YouTube, because he wanted it to be a gift to everyone so they can learn to forgive just as the Native Americans try to do. It can be seen every weekday here in D.C. at the National Museum of the American Indian at 3 p.m.