When you go to war, some people disappear

Dr. Canku talks about his family's experience in the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota War.

Audio Chapters

DL: Tell us about the experience of your grandparents, you said that they were forced to leave Minnesota.

CC: Yes. DL: How did they – what happened to them? How did they have to leave? Were they related to Little Crow or any of the warriors?

CC: No. Wakute was our band leader. Some of our relatives in the Canku family were captured in 1862 and sent to Fort Snelling. There was nine of our family that were sent there. And then the rest escaped and went to the Plains.

DL: Was there any reason why they were imprisoned?

CC: They were implicated for being Dakota.

DL: Not necessarily that they had taken up arms and fought? It was just because they were Dakota.

CC: Yes. They were implicated. Just being Dakota means that you were guilty before any consideration of being innocent.

DL: Were they part of the group of 303 warriors who were supposed to die, according to the U.S. Government and Cavalry? CC: I'm not certain yet. We're still doing studies on who were the descendants that were severely incarcerated, and punished, and hung and sent to different concentration camps in Minnesota.

DL: So we're at the point now where these nine members of your family are being held.

CC: Yes. DL: What was their fate? How did their stories end?

CC: Nobody knows what happened to them. It's like when you go to war, some people disappear. And we can just imagine that if they died they were…Their burial is right east of Fort Snelling.

DL: Do you recall hearing the names of any of them?

CC: Only what the U.S. Army provided us, the record, of only nine members of the Canku family. We didn't know their first names.

DL: That is a tremendous mystery that your family lives with...

CC: Yes.

CC: The most saddening thing about the story was that the innocent of our people were implicated just as severely as those who were participants, active participants in the War.  There was injustice.

DL: So you heard the stories about how unfairly -- perhaps the women and children, even -- were treated at that time.

CC: Exactly.  Some of our women lost all I guess, all the societal ways of belonging to the Dakota way of life.  And also, the men lost a lot of the roles – being warriors and hunters – and they became fugitives.

DL: This occurred during the War?  Before the War?  After the War?  When did this transformation occur for the people?

CC: After the 1862 War.

DL: And that was during a period of exile.

CC: Yes.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Dr. Clifford Canku Interviewer Deborah Locke made at Minnesota History Center, St. Paul, MN | Friday, June 10, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. When you go to war, some people disappear October 16, 2019. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/1016

Viewpoints: All viewpoints expressed on this website are those of the contributors, and are not representative of the Minnesota Historical Society.