"How is it that all the casinos we passed are owned by Indian tribes?" My visiting friend from Latvia asked me that while we traveled north from Minneapolis to see the Canadian border. We had passed Running Aces in Columbus, Grand Casino in Hinckley, Black Bear in Carlton, and Fond-du-Luth before ending up at Grand Portage.
"There are 21 Indian-run casinos in Minnesota," I said.
And then I explained that it goes back to 1989 when Congress passed a law allowing Indian tribes to operate casinos. Minnesota was actually the first state to reach agreement with the tribes. The rest is history, and the casinos have been a boon.
“Native American groups say the success of their casinos is deservedly theirs in light of the history of mistreatment they have suffered,” WCCO-TV’s Esme Murphy reported in May 2011.
Throughout Minnesota, people are re-examining whether America was really "discovered" by Europeans. Poet Eduardo Galeano got it all by saying, "In 1492 the tribes discovered they were Indians; they discovered that they lived in America."
Europeans flocked to the Americas only to find they had to deal with pesky "Indians." They then came up with euphemisms to describe what happened next: resettlement, ethnic displacement, forced removal and (last but not least) ethnic cleansing.
Duluth’s Bob Dylan, in his song, “God on Our Side,” wrote, “The cavalry charged and the Indians fell.” And their new homes were called reservations.
President Andrew Jackson pushed through the Removal Act of 1830. In the Great Lakes region, natives, primarily Ojibwa, were banished to isolated reservations.
Carlisle Ford Runge, a Rhodes scholar and professor of economics at the University of Minnesota, brought all this to light in an analysis with the impossible title, “Hunger as a weapon of war: Hitler's Hunger Plan, Native American Resettlement and Yemen." As Runge pointed out, Hitler's goal was laid out in his manifesto, “Mein Kampf,” and it included opening up the soils in Russia for German settlers "as soon as the native inhabitants were starved or evicted."
As a teen, Hitler read novels of the American West by German writer Karl May (who never came to America). As many people in the world looked to the U.S. as inspiration for democracy and freedom, Hitler apparently saw the resettlement of Native Americans as a template.
If you drive through western and northern Minnesota, where Native Americans were resettled, you realize hunger was never far away.
William Tecumseh Sherman, who led the infamous devastating Civil War march to the sea, was put in charge of pacifying the postwar West. Among Sherman's assignments was to undertake many bison-hunting expeditions. Runge pointed out: "As one U.S. colonel told a hunter after he had shot 30 bulls, ‘Kill every buffalo you can; every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.” The original bison population of the U.S. was probably around 30 million. By 1893, fewer than 400 were left.
Hitler referred to the American West as he invaded Russia. According to Runge, "He told his followers to Germanize the east and to look upon the natives as redskins. Hitler noted that, ‘Americans in the West shot down millions of redskins to a few hundred thousand.’"
Runge concluded that, "Hitler's Hunger Plan, while not more understood than the systematic annihilation of Jews, looms large as an example of atrocity. Inspired in part by a romanticized view of Native American ‘resettlement,’ it causes us to look again at U.S. history and to reflect on white treatment of Native American resettlement."
Despite this history, complaints persist in the Twin Cities about changing Lake Calhoun, named for a white slave owner, to Bde Makha Sha, for the original Dakota Sioux.
I have not heard yet, as was suggested by Gordon Lightfoot in his ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” any push to change Lake Superior to Gitche Gumee.
John Freivalds of Wayzata, Minn., is the author of six books and is the honorary consul of Latvia in Minnesota. His website is jfapress.com.