Poetry and Dakota Sioux History: Translating 1862 Dakota War Correspondence

By:
Dr. John Hunt Peacock
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For the 1862 Dakota War Correspondence Translation Project at Sisseton Wahpeton Tribal College I composed poems in Dakota and English from historic letters dictated in Dakota to missionary Stephen Riggs from my ancestor Wakanhditopa (Four Lightning). He was writing on behalf of thirty-eight fellow Dakota War prisoners condemned to be hung in what is still the largest mass execution in U.S. history. My English translations are based on literal translations of the letters by contemporary tribal elders Mike Simon and Clifford Canku. This paper discusses the reparative nature of this tribal community project and describes plans for publishing the poems in print and on the web, for performing them orally in reservation ceremonies, and for giving readings of them in non-Native schools and municipal centers.


Keywords: Dakota Language, 1862 Dakota War, Historic Letters, Translation, Poetry
Stream: Art in Communities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Story of Dakota Origins, Imprisonment, and Exile


Dr. John Hunt Peacock

Professor, Department of Language, Literature, and Culture, Maryland Institute College of Art
Baltimore, Maryland (MD), USA

A 1972 graduate of Harvard College and 1980 Ph.D. in Native American literature from Columbia University, I was a 1983 Mellon fellow at Wesleyan University’s Center for Humanities and a 1994 University of Antwerp, Belgium, Fulbright lecturer. In 1999 I wrote the Native American outreach section for a $650,000 Lila Wallace Community Arts Partnership grant for the Maryland Institute College of Art and, in 2000, a $30,000 Bush Foundation Planning Grant for an archive of my Sprit Lake Tribe’s oral traditions. I was awarded a $10,000 American Philosophical Society grant in 2001 for individual research in American Indian studies; and in 2004 a $3000 Montgomery County Maryland Arts and Humanities Council grant for Dakota language study. In 2005 I coauthored the Modern Language Association’s policy “Statement on Native American Languages in the University Curriculum.” My essay on digital language revitalization won a prize of $50,000 of video conferencing equipment for my Spirit Lake Tribe in 2006. My Dakota poems with English translations have been exhibited at the Minnesota History Center, published in Silver Spring, Maryland newspapers, and are forthcoming in "American Indian Quarterly" and in "Studies in American Indian Literatures." I have been invited to read them at the Takoma Park, Maryland municipal center.

Ref: A06P0456