Over the past year I’ve been serving as a videographer for the Suburban Community Channels TV series ‘Prairie Profiles,’ produced by Barbara Britain. During this time, Barb has been focusing on stories surrounding the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862, in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of this appalling period in Minnesota and U.S. history. We’ve done interviews with a number of different historians, to share stories of the events and individuals from that time.

Yesterday we were at the Minnesota History Center, where we had the honor of talking with Dr. Elden Lawrence, a Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota elder, historian, writer, and past President of Sisseton Wahpeton College. Elden told us the story of how his great grandfather Lorenzo Lawrence helped rescue three settler women and thirteen children who had been captured by Dakota from the Lower Sioux Agency. His actions put his own life and those of his family members at risk of being killed by other Indians and non-Indians alike. You can read a previously recorded oral history of this event here.

In sharing how he came to be a historian, Elden spoke about how, despite growing up on a reservation, he lacked knowledge of his own tribal and family history. As an adult, it became his quest to learn more, in order to better understand himself and his people. His research led him to discover with surprise his own family connection to Lorenzo Lawrence and Lorenzo’s unique story. Elden said he felt that without a sense of our own culture and history, we cannot be fully grounded. In researching his ancestors’ stories to find personal meaning, Elden has brought to light information and perspectives that are of benefit to all of us. His book The Peace Seekers, for example, tells the stories of Christian Dakota that are often missing from both white and Native accounts. The quotes I’ve read from this book are ones I find very compelling, and I’m looking forward to reading the book in its entirety.

Since I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the topic of vocation, it made me wonder whether each of us has a particular, personal quest to fulfill, whether we’re aware of it or not. Something that drives us, that we can’t help but be curious about, because it has some sort of personal significance to us. It seems like people who approach their quests with the greatest fidelity – at the risk of being shamed for being selfish or challenging the status quo – are often able to make contributions that go way beyond serving themselves, to serve many others. People like Elden.

For more information about the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862 and its historical context, I highly recommend as a starting place North Country: The Making of Minnesota by Mary Lethert Wingerd. If you don’t know about the genocide that occurred during that time, please take time to learn more.


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