Shoreline Beacon - - Opinion -

ecem­ber 26 is Box­ing day on the cal­en­dar, but for the in­dige­nous com­mu­nity of north amer­ica, de­cem­ber 26 is a day of deep mourn­ing and sad­ness.

on that day in 1862, 38 dakota men were hanged at Mankato, Min­nesota, in the largest sin­gle mass ex­e­cu­tion in u.S. his­tory.

The hang­ings were the re­sult of con­flict be­tween the dakota peo­ple and set­tlers.

ac­cord­ing to Mark charles, Wash­ing­ton cor­re­spon­dent for na­tive news on­line: in the fall of 1862, af­ter the united States failed to meet its treaty obli­ga­tions with the dakota peo­ple, sev­eral dakota war­riors raided an amer­i­can set­tle­ment, killed five set­tlers and stole some food. This be­gan a pe­riod of armed con­flict be­tween some of the dakota peo­ple, the set­tlers, and the u.S. Mil­i­tary. af­ter more than a month, sev­eral hun­dred of the dakota war­riors sur­ren­dered and the rest fled north to what is now canada. Those who sur­ren­dered were quickly tried in mil­i­tary tri­bunals, and 303 of them were con­demned to death.”

With the men tried by mil­i­tary com­mis­sion, the ex­e­cu­tions had to be for­mally or­dered by Pres­i­dent abra­ham lin­coln. Three hun­dred and three deaths seemed too geno­ci­dal for Pres­i­dent lin­coln so he mod­i­fied the cri­te­ria of what charges war­ranted a death sen­tence. Even­tu­ally 39 dakota men were sen­tenced to die. on de­cem­ber 26, 1862, by or­der of Pres­i­dent lin­coln, and with nearly 4,000 white amer­i­can set­tlers look­ing on, the largest mass ex­e­cu­tion in the his­tory of the united States took place.

i raise this, not just be­cause of the in­jus­tice which was done but be­cause in the united church hymn book, Voices united, there is a hymn #308 ti­tled “Many and great, o god, are your Works”. it was writ­ten by Joseph renville, a fur trader and Bible trans­la­tor at lac que Parle in Min­nesota.

The words of the last verse are this tes­ti­mony.

grant unto us com­mu­nion with you, o star-abid­ing one.

come unto us and dwell with us,

with you are found the gifts of life.

Bless us with life that has no end, eter­nal life with you. What is not men­tioned in any of the per­for­mance notes in Voic­e­sunited nor in any of the back­ground notes i have found any­where, is why this hymn mat­ters.

ac­cord­ing to the teach­ing of dakota Elders, “...there was one song that we sing in church, that they sang at the hang­ing when they were go­ing to get hung in 1862. We still sing that song. it goes: “Many and great, oh god, are your works, maker of heaven and earth.” and it talks about all things good: “Thanks for giv­ing us this day,” and it’s beau­ti­ful. it’s about now that they’re go­ing to be go­ing to see their maker - i guess they were hold­ing hands when they were singing this - and that was their last song. But they were happy to be go­ing and to take care of those left be­hind.”

and that’s why this hymn mat­ters.

Rev. David Shear­man is a re­tired United Church min­is­ter

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